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Creativity Stifled at BBC Drama?

I’m not quite sure what to think about the spat that’s erupting around the BBC drama department, brought about by Tony Garnett’s piece for Media Guardian’s Organ Grinder blog yesterday.

Garnett, a veteran of television production of over 30 years standing, claims that the production process at the BBC drama department has become closed and that creativity is being stifled by middle managers. He feels that the audience are being shortchanged and that the corporation seeks to control and crush the creative act. I know what he means about shortchanging - I’m still waiting for Bonekickers season two to be green lit (see? Still funny!)

And in a spirited response to Garnett’s comments, BBC drama commissioning controller Ben Stephenson stresses an open door policyunder his stewardshp and welcomes Garnett to come and have a chat with him - and indeed anybody to come and have a chat with him. Which seems fair enough.

Garnett has produced some of my favourite television - Between the Lines (still the finest cop drama ever), This Life and The Cops. But he seems to have a problem that the BBC might want to have a say in the material that gets broadcast on its network. And that’s the stifling of creativity he’s referring to.

This is an argument that is never going to go away - in 20 years, there will be another independent drama producer complaining that the BBC is stifling creativity and that the department has changed. But how much of this will be motivated by the fact that Auntie aren’t commissioning very much from them at that moment? I don’t see much with Garnett’s name on at the moment currently in production.

I see both sides to this argument - there’s the possibility that there are two many monkeys that are cutting down the route to the organ grinder in the production process at BBC drama. But ultimately there has to be somebody in the chain that has to say yes or no to an idea when you bring it to the table. If they say yes, they’re your best friend, if they say no, they’re stifling creativity. C’est la vie.

I hope Ben Stephenson and Tony Garnett get together over a coffee and see if they can talk this particular nugget out - the BBC preaches to such a broad church, surely Garnett has that killer idea sitting in his bottom drawer just waiting to be made.

And check out the responses to Garnett from some of BBC drama’s most prominent producers and writers here - entries from Tony Jordan and Steven Moffat are particularly worthwhile…


I think the problem lies in the fact that the system still relies on the say-so of one individual, and dismissing Garnett's genuine concerns as sour grapes because of a lack of recent commissions is frankly too simplistic, and lets the BBC off the hook too easily.

No matter how talented Stephenson is, or Jane Tranter before him, surely it can't be healthy for one person's taste to dictate all? And there's something frankly a little distasteful and disingenous to see Tony Jordan and Steven Moffat writing so dismissively of other people's views and experiences just because they themselves have been fortunate enough to, on the whole, have had a better time of it.

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