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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 8: Flourishing Public Service Genres: Documentary, History, Travel



Flourishing Public Service Genres: Documentary, History, Travel

Compared with Natural History/Science/Arts/Children’s/Religion, the genres dealt with in this chapter have flourished in recent years. Documentary/History/ Travel have prospered for several reasons:

Audiences tend to like strong ‘real life’ material. These series often focus on the human rites de passage of birth, sex and marriage, and death. Back in 1990 a TV baby birth was unusual. But two decades later, scores of baby births were being shown on TV each year. The successful C4 One Born Every Minute did 4 one hour birth shows in 2012; it was competing with BBC2’s The Midwives and other baby birth programming. BBC3, with its youth mission, takes a very active interest in sex and sexually transmitted diseases, with such entertainment-plus-education series as Unsafe Sex in the ← 245 | 246 → City. There has also been increased factual interest in Death – in History and even in Travel, as well as in Documentary.

Amongst these genres there is an especial interest in the full life story. A classic Granada series began as Seven Up with 14 seven year olds in 1964. The same individuals were filmed again at seven year intervals; the eighth filming, 56 Up (ITV) was in 2012. There is a unique audience appeal in being able to see what has happened to these individuals over half a century. This series is a triumph of Documentary but it also becomes History and has some of the appeal...

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