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Maggie Brown: Good TV depends on bold producers backing writing talent

The cast of Cold Feet. Photo: ITV
The cast of Cold Feet. Photo: ITV
Maggie Brown
Maggie Brown contributes to the Guardian, Observer and the Media Podcast and is the author of The Story of Channel 4
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I spent a fruitful hour or so the other day sipping coffee with Kenton Allen, the celebrated comedy producer, whose company, Big Talk, has been recommissioned to make a second series of the resurrected Cold Feet, ordered before the first one has finished.

That is TV heaven for everyone involved in this unpredictable business, including the five original actors, who returned to play their older selves, and ITV, whose big bet on a revival after 13 years paid off handsomely, with ratings consolidating at seven million. Despite some anxieties pre-transmission, it is the third most popular series this autumn after Victoria and Poldark.

But it is so typical of Allen that he is also backing Caitlin Moran in her refusal to accept Channel 4’s decision to cancel her sitcom Raised by Wolves after two series, which Allen also executive-produced.

Garnering critical acclaim and seeming to find a following among female viewers, Moran’s first venture into creative writing for TV and the small screen needed experienced guidance of the sort he bestows.

Using her platform in The Times, Moran launched a crowdfunding campaign on October 18 to find £320,000, to continue the depiction of a working-class mother raising six oddball children in Wolverhampton. The script is ready, the actors willing, and there can be other ways to find viewers, as YouTube and Netflix have proved.

Moran recounted how Allen had encouraged her, saying that as there have been a couple of really successful crowdfundings for TV and film in America, it might be time to launch the first in the UK. It could work, or we could be hideously embarrassed, she said: “But I’m game if you’re game.”

Allen made his name with Caroline Aherne’s The Royle Family, but he followed that up with determined efforts to develop new comedy stars in the North West for the BBC, founded his own independent company, and has consistently shown empathy with all talent. (Big Talk recently played a part in bringing former-columnist-in-this-very-space Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Crashing to Channel 4).

Everyone working in scripted television knows that productions depend on the writer; you can’t do anything worthwhile without a great script. So talented writers, along with screen stars, need nurturing, and that journey can take time, as the ascent of acclaimed Jack Thorne (National Treasure) illustrates.

Whatever the outcome of Moran’s crowdfunding, via Kickstarter, it is a statement of belief in a creative, even if the noisy Moran seems brimful of confidence. What will she write next?

Meanwhile, ITV is banking on established writers, as its new drama chief Polly Hill, poached from the BBC, attracts back Kay Mellor (Band of Gold) and Mike Bartlett (Doctor Foster). A sign that it is diluting its dependence on crime and murder. Hurrah.

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