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BBC and Television Genres in Jeopardy

Jeremy Tunstall

This book considers British television from the point of view of executive producers: the people who employ the workforce and are in charge of making all television series. The focus of the book is twenty-one separate genres, at least seven of which are in significant decline – namely current affairs, education, natural history, science, arts, children’s and religion. Some other public service genres – such as documentary, history and travel – are in good health. The most commercially successful genres include formatted factual entertainment series, such as cooking, homes, quiz/game, reality and sport.
The author completed 150 interviews not only with executive producers but with BBC and ITV channel controllers and top genre commissioners. Playing a supporting role are another 200 interviews, which were the basis of the author’s 1993 book, Television Producers. Since 1990, and especially since 2008, British television production has faced financial challenges. Meanwhile, BSkyB, Virgin Media and Channel Five are American controlled, and most of the larger London ‘independent’ production companies are now American or Euro-American owned and operated. Public service broadcasting in general, and BBC television in particular, are threatened with probable further decline. This book offers new insights into the state of British television through the eyes of those working on the inside.
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Chapter 4: Drama and Soap: Most Popular Genres



Drama and Soap: Most Popular Genres

Drama and Soap continue to attract British television’s largest audiences. Soap and drama together provide about half of the 50 highest ratings for every week of the year. Data on catch-up viewing via repeats and various playback technologies show that drama and soap are again top of the ratings. But British television has often been accused of specialising in crime series, hospital dramas, nostalgic working class soap operas, and Victorian costume dramas.

‘Drama’ has always been preferred by BBC, ITV and Channel 4, as the most truly British genre. ‘Drama’ reflects the traditional close UK links between stage and television. Drama is a prestigious genre within television, because it tends to imply live theatre, good writing, talented acting, and public service broadcasting. Drama is also the most expensive genre to produce. 50 or 100, or even 200, people are involved in making one fresh hour of drama. The high audience and prestige 9pm time slot on the major channels is awarded to drama more than to any other genre. Drama is seen as deserving generous funding because it – more than any other genre – needs to confront, and to achieve better ratings than, Hollywood fiction imports. Hollywood produces fiction in a big way with the world’s largest budgets for both film and TV fiction.

Non-soap UK drama typically costs between £500,000 and £1 million per hour. Only BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, C4 and Sky can...

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