Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Thanks to my many readers in the BBC Executive Unit for helping Phil sort out the missing minutes. Now the challenge is to find a story.

There isn't one I can see. More an emerging narrative. July and September's Executive meetings both featured lunchtime learning sessions - about drama and reaching UK communities. Both featured discussions, and presumably reassurances, about giving output control of BBC America to a US company, AMC Networks.

Self-effacing Ben Stephenson overcame his inherent shyness to lead the drama presentation, summed up thus "The session focussed on views from the industry; the current status and achievements of BBC Drama; and the differences between how Drama is produced in the US versus the UK." The trouble is that some of those differences are being eroded by the new partnership with BBC America. Despite extra funding from the licence-fee, Mr Stephenson loves co-commissions, which fund glossy production. (Check his flights to New York and LA). Glossy doesn't always mean good, as the fictional skoolboy hero Nigel Molesworth found when backing racehorses.

Currently on our screens with BBC America funding we have Intruders and Atlantis. Next year we get two spooky ersatz 19th century offerings, "The Living and The Dead" and "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" (first commissioned way back in 2012) and "The Last Kingdom", an adaptation of the Saxon sagas of former Nationwide researcher Bernard Cornwell. Also coming, eventually, to the BBC, with BBC America funding, is a third series of Ripper Street, currently offered on Amazon Prime Instant Video. In production, series 3 of Orphan Black; in debate, series 3 of The Musketeers.

Poldark is coming back to BBC1 - but not BBC America. "Classic" stuff seems to be staying with PBS Masterpiece Theatre, with Wolf Hall also promised for 2015.

All good, if it works. But there's little sign of riskier, cheaper alternatives in the making. No timely one-offs, or simple two and three handers, nearly all original writing focussed on mini-series, and no sign of more theatre videos, like the Duchess of Malfi.   Risk, as Sky Arts has shown, is not all about money.

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