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July 15, 2009 4:43 AM   Subscribe

"Working in art film or commercial cinema is like dancing through a mine field, and every broadcaster is now racing down market in a desperate attempt to survive. But what is happening at the BBC is the real scandal: it is bigger than all the rest combined, it is free from direct commercial pressure and its public service obligations carry cultural responsibilities. There are no excuses." Veteran producer Tony Garnett, has launched a blistering attack on the current process of drama commissioning at the BBC
posted by fearfulsymmetry (17 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
So if over-management is the problem, and the internet is the future, why not just stop working for the BBC and start making the shows you want to make, and put them on the internet?

As much as I agree with Mr. Garnett's assessment of the problems of micromanagement, it sounds a lot like a sixteen year old being angry they can't paint their room black and eat cheetos all day.

You CAN do that, if you want..just not under your parent's roof.

Go get your own house!
posted by chronkite at 5:19 AM on July 15, 2009


You just have to look at the output from the bbc to see that it is driven by short-sighted demographic pandering. More dancing, doctors and Adrian Childes anyone?
posted by munchbunch at 5:28 AM on July 15, 2009


...it sounds a lot like a sixteen year old being angry they can't paint their room black and eat cheetos all day.

No. It sounds like a kid who is perfectly willing to paint his room any color his parents want, but said parents keep micro-managing every brush stroke.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:34 AM on July 15, 2009


The "get your own house" thing really doesn't make a lot of sense because these productions are all funded by television license fees that the government collects.

And "just put it on the internet?" What exactly is the business model for getting funding for that? Unless you're Joss Whedon, there isn't one yet.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:38 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do agree that the BBC doesn't seem to be taking as many creative risks as they did 20 years ago and that's a shame. It seems to be a Thatcherite hangover, where public corporations like the Beeb are still fearful about losing their funding, making them risk-averse.

chronkite's right that the attack was a bit of a tantrum. Apparently it's resonating with writers and producers, though.

For many reasons, including the economy, I can't see a return to the creative fearlessness of the 60's and 70's. Instead, it seems that the old development process is stale and a new process must evolve. First, yeah there's way too many people in the BBC Drama "executive" branch. Thin that herd out for sure.

The creative initiation must evolve too. The creator must be more than just a writer, and s/he should maybe do more than just submit screenplays and wait for funding. With the relatively low cost of basic production now, is it unreasonable to expect that the creator should also submit a rough-cut pilot or a few produced scenes, to best present an unfiltered version of their concept? One killer scene is a better hook than 90 double-spaced pages.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:31 AM on July 15, 2009


> I can't see a return to the creative fearlessness of the 60's and 70's.

Let me rephrase that:

I can't see a return to the BBC's funding fearlessness of the 60's and 70's.

Thank you.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:34 AM on July 15, 2009


Go get your own house!
Is there a word for posting responses which amount to "life's tough, suck it up" to demonstrate one's superior hard-headedness? ("Libertrolling", perhaps?)
posted by acb at 7:13 AM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Had a meeting with Garnett once. At the end of the hour he took me on a tour of his office, waved his hand over the dozen diligent employees bent down working on scripts, and said "Look it this, isn't it great see people working so hard?"

He then leaned close into my ear and said in a vicious undertone, "Fuck 'em. I can outwork them anyday"

Tony Garnett - tough guy.
posted by jettloe at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2009


I agree he seemed a little mardy at times, but he identified the problems clearly, and suggested solutions. I don't know if the motivations for executives acting as they do is going away though. I doubt any new government will be more friendly; rather more ready to criticize and detract.

(Also, I liked this: ...try, fail, fail better and then come up with something wonderful...)
posted by Sova at 7:52 AM on July 15, 2009


Nearly four and a half thousand words to say "over-management is stifling creativity in the BBC"? This article makes me think that this guys' work needs more editing, not less.

I expect he's right (I've heard the same complaint from friends in the BBC) and the historical context is interesting, but there's amazingly little actual information in the piece after paring out the outrage.

The BBC suffers a lot because it's not actually in the same business as its competitors. All the other broadcast media companies exist to provide viewers' attention to their actual clients, advertisers. How they achieve this is entirely up to them, so the obvious goal is to provide the simplest, cheapest programming that will provide that. The BBC, however, is supposed to be in the business of providing its viewers with "quality" programming; the viewers are its customers, so its an exact mirror of the other companies.

Of course, the problems start when we have to decide what "quality" actually means and how it's measured. Measuring it purely by ratings share leads it down the lowest-common-denominator path that the other broadcasters are obliged to chase, destroying the whole point of the licence fee. But measuring it purely by how culturally or artistically valuable the output is will lead to (probably fair) accusations of elitism as it spends the licence fee on content that the reality TV demographic aren't comfortable watching.

I think this is at the heart of a lot of the BBC's problems. The (very) little I've heard about their internal politics over the past five or ten years makes it clear that there isn't a stable consensus within the BBC on what it is they're actually trying to achieve. This will inevitably result in some turf wars and ideological battles within or between departments, and a lot of very nervous managers trying to satisfy both conflicting sides by channelling every new idea into a very narrowly-defined and risk free middle ground.

(NB: The first bit of that argument, about the BBC not being in the same business as its competitors, was shamelessly stolen from the late, great Douglas Adams).
posted by metaBugs at 8:02 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think this is at the heart of a lot of the BBC's problems. The (very) little I've heard about their internal politics over the past five or ten years makes it clear that there isn't a stable consensus within the BBC on what it is they're actually trying to achieve.

This brings to mind something a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) insider said to me a decade or so ago:

"The strangest thing about working here is that people generally aren't in it entirely for the money, which leads to inevitable question, often very dangerous to consider. What are they in this for?"
posted by philip-random at 8:31 AM on July 15, 2009


one day, when I have considerably more clout than I currently do, I'm to have this engraved and hung on my office wall:

The first thing we do, let's kill all the Producers.

There are too god damn many of them, and they make more money than everyone who positively contributes to a project, and the majority of them are glorified administrative assistants: booking flights, hotels, locations. wrangling talent, filing paperwork. but then they all get creative input at the point where it's crucially important for singular vision to have final say. and what's their input?

"this joke isn't funny. i don't get it."
"what happened to that joke? now this scene doesn't make sense."
"oh, we put that joke back in? no, I think i liked it better without it."

"this music is too odd. can we just put some top 40 rock song in there?"

"i don't know, I think this part is too cerebral. the flyover states won't understand it."

"I like that! It's edgy! Really fierce stuff! But listen... I don't think the suits are gonna go for it. You understand, right? It's not me, it's the suits. Better take it out."
posted by shmegegge at 9:00 AM on July 15, 2009


I'm pretty bored of everyone digging into the BBC. We'll miss it when we're gone. Even the knuckle draggers who think that if only the BBC could be got rid of, the truth would somehow become hardline conservative and quality programming would flow from every pore of the system.

Garnett raises points that have been around since God was a boy. Of course management stifles creativity at many levels in the BBC. But on the other hand, when the BBC so much as dares to encourage genuinely one-of-a-kind talent like Jonathan Ross to be creative they get lynched. Every episode of Spooks is parsed for who exactly the baddies are and whether the BBC is being biased. A one-off version of a hit theatre show like Jerry Springer: The Opera draws 55,000 complaints. When Top Gear presenters dare to mix a gin and tonic in a car at the North Pole they are censured for encouraging drink driving. Different standards for the BBC, you see.

When the BBC tries to lock talent in with high salaries, it gets lynched. Not on my taxpayer funded tab. When the BBC - generally reputed to be utterly stingy - achieves commercial and critical success and wants to buy a bottle of champagne or put in place incentive schemes for its senior managers, sections of the public howl with rage that THIS IS NOT WHAT THE LICENCE FEE IS FOR.

And what do you get? An organisation that has the heaviest burdens of government tickboxing and accountability placed on it and yet it still manages to knock its competition into a cocked hat - certainly at a national level and in many cases internationally too. But, you see, this isn't what the BBC is for. My licence fee isn't supposed to be producing quality commercial programmes. That's what the open market is for.

People: read this for what it is - the BBC will get carved up sooner or later. The jockeying in the press, the constant barbs from newspapers owned by millionaire media barons worried their ad revenues are going down the crapper are part of a merry dance to prepare the public for the final push: get rid of the BBC, share the spoils and have five, maybe ten good years when a $10bn market player vanishes from the market before Joe Schmoe realises he doesn't actually want to watch 20 minutes of adverts for each 40 minutes of programming and, hey, £0.40 a day per household for multiple TV and radio channels, iplayer and the BBC website isn't such a bad deal after all.

/rant endeth

Disclaimer: I have never worked, directly or indirectly, for the BBC
posted by MuffinMan at 9:03 AM on July 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


metaBugs: Nearly four and a half thousand words to say "over-management is stifling creativity in the BBC"? This article makes me think that this guys' work needs more editing, not less.

Yes. While I respect the points the guy was making, I got burnt out about halfway through. Definitely needed editing.
posted by dubitable at 10:15 AM on July 15, 2009


People: read this for what it is - the BBC will get carved up sooner or later.

That looks worryingly plausible; what's happening to the BBC these days (pushes for inappropriately market-driven methodologies, a weakening of the revenue base (i.e., below-inflation increases in the license fee, which is now to be shared with other broadcasters)) looks like what the Tories did to British Rail before Major got the nerve to privatise it. It's the old death from a thousand cuts, undermining an institution so that they can point to it and say "it's ṅot very good, is it?" and get public approval for privatising it.
posted by acb at 11:13 AM on July 15, 2009


I think I need to clarify my five-minutes-out-of-bed comment up there.

If your art form requires the support and funding of a top heavy bureaucracy, and you don't like that, it might be a good idea to try a new art form.

I'm really not trying to be the "suck it up" guy, but I don't see the BBC EVER changing their structure drastically enough to address this guy's interests.
posted by chronkite at 11:53 AM on July 15, 2009


"This is great stuff! Different title, different story, different actors and we'll have ourselves a real winner!"
posted by Sutekh at 5:29 PM on July 15, 2009


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