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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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The ‘Death of Television’ has been greatly exaggerated. The average Brit (over the age of two) watches TV for about twenty-six hours per week, or nearly four hours per day. Americans view more. People today also spend huge amounts of time looking at other screens, but this other screen viewing has been added to – not subtracted from – television viewing.

The British television industry’s largely freelance labour market is presided over by a few hundred executive producers, who work either inside an independent production company, or within a broadcaster, such as the BBC, ITV, or Channel Four. These executive producers employ, and then manage, the presenters, writers, directors, comedians, actors, researchers and technical people who make the programming. These executive producers have to get their work financed and accepted by senior channel executives and genre commissioners; most of those senior people are themselves former executive producers.

This book focuses on executive producers and on British television’s twenty-one genres. Not only does British television offer an extremely wide range of genres, but it specialises in many series runs as short as six or eight half hours per year. Although there are also some big, long-running, series, British TV’s output is highly fragmented; which is why it is hard to summarise or comprehend.

Since the economic crisis of 2008, less money has been available for new television productions. Some of the twenty-one genres discussed in this book are not in the best of health. Seven...

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