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Law and Order: too little, too late?

Law and Order: UK is a very odd show for an ITV drama. We’re not talking questions of its peculiar hybrid status, being a domestically grown version of a US drama juggernaut. No, It’s odd, because it’s actually quite good.

And stay with me on this - it isn’t another ITV drama bashing kind of blog. Well, not really. That’s still too easy, even with the inroads made by the commercial broadcaster recently into making some credible, high-rating drama. And yes, there have been hits - Whitechapel, Place of Execution, Above Suspicion. By and large, these have been short run specials with only half an eye on further episodes. Quick fix ratings plasters that the ITV publicity machine can sustain over a three-week or even two-night run.

But where ITV drama has generally failed in recent years after the 90s saw some great commercial successes is in cultivating new, returning dramas. Best not to mention The Palace at this point. And while The Fixer is due for a return (and we here at TV Today loved it), its ratings did leave much to be desired towards the end. Primeval is about the only show that has hit the spot in terms of schedule and audience needs and the upcoming third season will be very welcome when it finally arrives.

No, with Law and Order: UK, an important step has been made in the rehabilitation of ITV Drama. It’s a show with a decent 13 episode run that an audience can get their teeth into, and on the evidence of the first two episodes, barely puts a foot wrong. Good casting, tangible storylines (hello Waking the Dead and Taggart) and an economic filming style. It’s a perfect line and length drama series for a Monday night.

Yes, the ratings dipped by over half a million between episodes one and two, but still pulling in 5.8 million on week two is still impressive and hopefully that will be sustained.

Particularly impressive in Law and Order: UK are Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber who make an effective pairing as Brooks and Devlin, with Walsh finally proving himself as the actor he’s threatened to be for years. He was great in Corrie, but always looked somewhat out of place. Here he is alongside actors with impressive CVs - Harriet Walter, Bill Paterson and Bamber himself is no slouch in the acting stakes - and he holds his own.

Law and Order: UK is the series ITV should have produced five years ago. If it had, the channel’s drama department might not be in the dire straits it has been for some time.

Looking at the wider troubles the company has endured in recent years, it seems there are ominous announcements coming later this week as the company’s financial results for the year are announced on Thursday. The results are not expected to be good, with job cuts it seems a given.

Another notion is that the studios at YTV in Leeds are possibly set for closure, with head office facilities for Emmerdale perhaps being moved across the Pennines to Manchester. The Leeds studios are one of the biggest television production facilities in Europe. Does this point to a drama department that for some time has lost the direction and management to be able to support such a huge production infrastructure. Are the walls about to come tumbling down? And more to the point, where would such a closure leave Emmerdale, tied as it is to a dedicated exterior set based in Leeds?

Perhaps Law and Order: UK is too little, too late considering the interesting, even frightening times we live in. But right now, I’ll take what I can get.

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