America sets benchmark for ‘boring’ Brits – Abbott

Liz Thomas

Shameless and State of Play creator Paul Abbott has also singled out Lost as an example of how the US is leading the way in developing new drama.

The award-winning writer commended the programme for setting a new industry standard. Delivering the annual Huw Wheldon memorial lecture, he said: “Whether the premise grabs you or not, the ambition and diligence of this series sets a new benchmark for all of us. I’m not talking about the money it cost but the sheer commitment of its creators to reinvent the concept of precinct drama.”

However, he lambasted much of British television drama as “predictable and needlessly boring” and accused executives of patronising viewers.

He said:”The commonest excuse for drama being bland or inoffensive or just crap is that the audience just can’t assimilate complex storytelling. That is just patronising. Audiences today can handle as much as you throw at them.

“Audiences deserve, and I believe crave, much more protein in their diet. Only by giving the viewer a workout, making them join the dots, use their own imagination can we reclaim television drama as the challenging, exciting and life-changing medium that I and many others have known it to be. We need more drama that unpeels society, that roots through the cubbyholes to fetch us nuggets of human behaviour that opens our eyes a bit.”

While he lauded Russell T Davies’ drama Second Coming as a “a television masterpiece”, Abbott dismissed ITV1′s Footballers’ Wives. He said: “It would be funny if it were designed as froth and only cost as much… you could write its mission statement on the back of a fag packet with room to spare.”

He added that the programme, which is made by independent production house Shed Productions, now costs as much to make as the last series of Cracker.

Abbott’s broadside on the genre follows criticism by acclaimed director and writer Stephen Poliakoff over the lack of authored drama on screens and the recent scathing attack by former BBC director-general John Birt, who branded British television drama stereotypical and formulaic.

* Stephen Poliakoff, Letters, page 8

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