BBC to move away from reality TV – Thompson

Joanna Taylor
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BBC director-general Mark Thompson intends to shift the Corporation’s programme policy away from “tired and derivative” reality programmes in favour of genres with a “clear public value” such as drama and comedy.

He said that cheap and safe lifestyle and reality formats will no longer form part of the BBC’s schedules unless they are distinctive and original.

Said Thompson: “In genres where the BBC does not have a paramount mission and perhaps where other public service broadcasters may be heavily represented – for example leisure and lifestyle and reality formats – we have to be very sure that we really are adding something distinctive and original and valuable within each genre.

“There will always be room for the best and most original ideas in these genres. But it’s also here that the temptation to give in to the derivative and the tired – to move away from public value – is the greatest.”

He also argued that the emphasis former director-general John Birt placed on news in the eighties was ‘lopsided’ and cited comedy as holding equal importance.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thompson for the first time outlined his vision of what the term ‘public value’ will mean in practice for licence fee-payers.

He named what he considered examples of excellence such as successful dramas State of Play and The Long Firm, the BBC’s online news site and the BBC Proms. But he put a particular focus on comedy – a notoriously expensive and risky genre – and therefore, he said, one which the BBC should tackle.

“Comedy has been a central audience expectation of the BBC for decades but our investment in and promotion of comedy is probably more important today than it’s ever been. Scripted comedy is relatively expensive and difficult to launch. The strike-rate is usually pretty low.

“It’s becoming increasingly hard therefore for commercial broadcasters, even commercially-funded PSB’s, to justify the money and airtime involved. As a result, cheaper, more sure-fire genres – reality, format documentary – often occupy slots which were once given over to comedy. To me the BBC’s role in comedy is just as pivotal as its role in news,” Thompson said.

However, the director-general said he was not advocating a move away from populist programming such as EastEnders in favour of a list of obscure genres that fail to find success and the Corporation would still pay for big Hollywood feature films to fill the Christmas schedules.

Meanwhile, ITV director of programmes Nigel Pickard has said that he wants his channel to be known as the home of Britain’s most popular drama. Outlining his vision for the channel at the EITF he said: “We cannot be all things to all people. That cannot be the case and it is the same for the BBC as well. We are the drama channel in the sense of dramatic emotional moments. We do those really well.”

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