Writing by committee


Look at the Edinburgh Television Festival. It never debates why Britain once exported quality dramas and imported game shows, and now gets its best dramas from abroad while pumping out lightweight and formulaic programmes. The executives who take the stage are as complacent and as self-congratulatory as bankers before the crash. The otherwise excellent Mark Lawson will never devote an edition of a Radio 4 arts programme to asking why Nicholas Hytner, the director of the National Theatre, can produce shows the world wants to see when Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s Commissioner of Drama, cannot.

You find an admission that America and Scandinavia are now producing better television only in the willingness of our companies to, well, “borrow” their ideas. I am not going to mock. I don’t mind British commissioning editors ripping off foreigners. There is no copyright on ideas, and originality is overrated. The real question is not whether a British company has stolen but whether they have stolen with style; whether they are cat burglars or muggers; whether they can make something new out of someone else’s idea or just smash and grab it.

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