Monday, 8 November 2010

BBC should put more new creative projects under the hammer, but they can’t expect it to be as cheap as chips

The results have been in since this July, but the conclusion of the BBC Trust's most recent interim review of the BBC's flagship channels still sticks. In a period of sheltered hope for a timid economy it isn't uncommon for companies to cut back on the old creative juices and stick to what it knows best; but sometimes the tried and tested methods of making a solid wedge of dough just aren't as effective as taking risks and running the gauntlet. Following the verdict on its handling and the performance of its main networks (BBC 1, 2 & 4), the executive brains at the Beeb have been told, yet again, that the replication of 'formulaic and derivative' material is not as safe as it seems.

Shows such as Bargain Hunt (made easily recognisable thanks to David Dickinson's chip charisma) and Cash in the Attic that bulk up the boat of BBC1's daytime output are formally referred to as 'collectible hunting' programs, with others like Location, Location, Location belonging to the category of 'property'. Whilst the more colloquial references to these shows condemn them as jargon-jading slots of gibberish, and have justifiable reason to, it can't be helped that folks like my very own ironing champion of a mother have grown accustomed to watching these slow-paced television equivalents of high-dose anaesthetics. And I can't blame hard-working stress-absorbers for wanting to sublimate the by-products of their domestic/occupational/social pressures using these daytime drug stops, but I can request they be given a hand in the right direction.

What has been drilled into the BBC's operational agenda through the overhanging nagging of the BBC Trust is the need for the most original programming possible to be produced by the corporation. 'Fresh and new' ideas – I was under the impression these two words implied the same meaning, apparently not – are what the Beeb needs to maintain its global reputation and conserve its UK audience. This judgement is fair and has statistical backing, with a third of BBC1's viewing audience stating the channel did not deliver good value for money. However, I'm inclined to believe this is not the fault of the BBC, per se.

First broadcast way back in the 1930s, BBC1 has seen a tremendous amount of change pass it by, and I say pass by because it is fundamentally the same network it was intended to be when it originated – informative with the added benefit of entertainment. Being fully funded by the national license fee and thus a public service broadcaster, the Beeb is obliged to provide a service that appeases the audience that protects it. Prudent as the Beeb has always been, it traditionally perceives the best way of appeasing us is to protect us back – by not conveying too much of the drama and dynamism of life. Arguably it more than licks the icing of life's , drama when it airs 'new' episodes of Eastenders, and yet there are many of us who want to see more coming from the crowning glory of British broadcasting.

More can be loosely defined as taking further ambitious steps and creative risks in the perpetual mission of PSB to keep the audience content with the service. What it also entails is the subtraction of production efforts dedicated to the recycling of 'dumb' material like the daytime fillers such as Bargain Hunt. This kind of categorical searching designed to keep hours in between peak times from turning to expansive black holes is seen as trivial as a final product and ultimately a mismanagement of corporate funds. Despite my fondness of denigrating against these favourites of my loveable mother, there is a school of thought that defends these shows as necessary and valued – that school being taught primarily by those who need something, anything to take their minds off the drudgery.

But in my opinion's defence, why not give these valiant daytime viewers something tougher to chew on. How about we ditch the stringy chicken wings and plate up with a heartier portion of sirloin? Why should the best and most original shows be reserved for the prime time slots in the late afternoon and early evening when the peeps of the Beeb are settling down after work? Why not dish out a little something extra for the views who are forced to survive on the meagre rations of daytime television? Like a dog isn't just for Christmas, top quality, original programs aren't just for the prime-time hours. Yes, creative risks are expensive and often harder to capitalise on than formulas that yield consistent good figures, and yes, we are still on the back end of an extensive recession, but there is no concrete statue of regulations that says progress cannot be made in the first major slump of the new century. So c'mon BBC brethren, give a little more to viewers like my mom this Christmas – and please, not a third variation on Dickinson or Tim Wonnacott, please.

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