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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 7: Traditional Public Service BBC Genres in Decline: Education, Natural History, Science, Arts, Children’s and Religion



Traditional Public Service BBC Genres in Decline: Education, Natural History, Science, Arts, Children’s and Religion

Six broadly ‘Public Service’, and mainly BBC, factual genres have been in decline – especially since the loosening of public service regulation around 1990. These declining genres are Education, Natural History, Science, Arts, Children’s and Religion.

Three other factual genres – Documentary, History and Travel – have succeeded in sustaining strong, and idiosyncratic, British identities, and have broadly prospered since 1990. These three successful and prosperous genres are discussed in the next chapter (Eight).

Many people in the 1990s believed that the present chapter’s declining genres would be able to benefit from major TV industry changes, especially the multi-channel and online-digital revolutions. But such optimists failed to note the competitive threat from the USA, from BSkyB and from commercial British online and digital companies. American companies such as Discovery targeted these genres in general and Natural History in particular. BSkyB has targeted the Arts genre with two entire Arts channels. In Education, British and American companies combined to oppose and to terminate the BBC’s digital curriculum, JAM, project. In other cases British companies such as HIT moved successfully into the American market; but HIT, which began as a producer of British children’s programming eventually became a toy-and-rights subsidiary of the leading American toy company, Mattel.

The six genres discussed in this chapter have struggled to justify themselves, especially since the heavy financial cuts from around 2008...

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