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Gannon accuses BBC’s commissioning process of ruining writers and production companies

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Exclusive: Peak Practice and Soldier Soldier creator Lucy Gannon has launched a scathing attack on the BBC, claiming that the Corporation’s drawn-out commissioning process is threatening the livelihoods of writers and independent drama producers.

Gannon, whose BBC credits include the series Servants, said the period between an idea being developed for the Corporation and then either commissioned or rejected was often as long as two years.

She said that this overlong process made it difficult for writers and companies relying on commissions to cope financially, and claimed the situation was being compounded by clauses in BBC contracts which prevent scripts being taken to other broadcasters for a certain period.

“The terrible thing for writers at the moment is the BBC – they are such crap. But it’s not just writers – they are killing producers and production companies all over the place because they will put something into development and then sit on it for literally two years. They [the BBC staff] are all salaried so they could not give a stuff – they have all got their pensions and their holidays – but in the meantime independent companies are really struggling and going under. That is the worst thing about the BBC and they should hang their heads in shame,” she said.

Gannon’s outburst to The Stage came as she promoted her latest TV offering, a three-parter for ITV called The Children starring Kevin Whately, which she revealed was initially developed by the BBC. She said it “sat on the shelf” for years before the Corporation finally rejected it and ITV picked it up.

Responding to Gannon’s criticisms, BBC head of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson said he acknowledged that projects in development did not always “move as quickly as everyone might like”, but claimed that this was due to a commitment to developing a wide range of original drama from various writers.

Stephenson added: “If we developed less, then the response rate would certainly quicken, but the number of opportunities available for writers would dramatically lessen. Making a drama as good as it can possibly be for the audience to enjoy sometimes takes time, but this will always be our driving factor.”

But Gannon argued that the process would be speedier if the BBC’s controller of fiction Jane Tranter worked on a freelance basis, like most writers.

She said: “If she was judged by every single thing she did and each thing had to pay – as it does with writers and actors – we would get an answer much quicker than we do.”

Gannon’s attack comes after the BBC Trust published a report into elements of the Corporation’s commissioning process last week. The trust said independent producers had raised concerns about slow response times from the BBC and that producers felt this caused uncertainty that was “damaging and demoralising, with potentially serious commercial repercussions” for smaller companies.

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