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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 9: Comedy, Big Entertainment and Talk



Comedy, Big Entertainment and Talk

Comedy, Big Entertainment and Talk all tend to involve studio audiences, whose members are encouraged to laugh, shout and interact. All of these genres lay claim to historic origins in Music Hall, Cartooning, Variety, Circus and Radio. These genres also have been recognised, since the 1930s start of British TV, as the third leg in the Education/Information/Entertainment combination.

Comedy, Big Entertainment and Talk are today focused mainly into about eight channels. BBC1, 2, and 3, ITV1 and 2, C4, More 4 and Five, between them, do a big range of comedy. But these genres, as Entertainment, are expected to be popular – to exceed the average audience rating for the particular time slot. These genres are mainly scheduled into Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings – where the ratings competition is fierce.

But since year 2000 the Comedy, Big Entertainment and Talk genres have been primarily aimed at the mid-market, the mass market. Some of today’s characteristic formats have been specifically designed for mass market appeal. Panel Comedy shows typically include several, currently popular, comedians – whose performance can be edited down to eliminate the less funny remarks. Big Entertainment shows, like X Factor, are similarly aimed at a big middle mass audience and are ruthlessly edited to avoid the duller material. Talk Shows also strive at a mass audience – often including both upmarket and downmarket guests in the same show; but, in general, Talk Shows seek to celebrate...

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