Slackening of pace
By Eve McAdam
THE successful TV script,
producers insist, must grip audiences in the first few minutes. This is a lesson that seems to have sunk in, for most writers do, in fact, start off programmes at a gallop. After a few Minutes, however, the pace slackens, the gallop becomes a trot, then an amble, and finally there is no movement at all.
The deadly TV disease of ideaparalysis sets in, and the programme ends in stasis. Symptoms of the disease are deficiency in inventiveness, an M
a bility, in discussion programmes, to advance arguments. disentangle fact from fiction, and to extend and germinate ideas; in drama there appears to be a failure to organize and build on the original dramatic situation.
The week provided a number of instances of TV inertia, but it also contributed one or two radiant exceptions. Among discussion programmes "The Trades Unions", in the BBC's series, "This Nation Tomorrow" (August 11) might be taken as a model.
In this, W. E. J. McCarthy's observations were not only sound, progressive and clearly expressed, but there were plenty of ideas. Also, McCarthy's address was carefully constructed under four main headines. This provided a framework within which his cospeakers had scope for argument, hut which prevented diffuseness: It also helped the audience to grasp the main problems and aims of the Trades Union movement.
This was not an easy programme to put over, but it succeeded because there was an abundance of ideas, the speakers were all positive and never acrimonious.
On the other hand. a programme that should have been easy to put over, that of The Sunday Break, "What About the Workers?" about the Young Christian Workers' movement, never really came to life.
Here again the programme started well with a brief (perhaps too brief) summary of the life of its founder. Fr. Cardijn, the Belgian priest "Obsessed by problems of the working classes."
There followed a useful description of the movement's adaptation to contemporary problems from Fr. Langdale. From this point, however, the programme lost momentum. It failed because there was far too much talk and description about and around the Young Christian Workers' activities, and far too little visible action.
It would have been preferable to see the Middlesbrough group of six workers in action (say, for Instance, tackling the barman selling liquor to 16-year-olds) than to listen to them describing how they intended to see, judge and act.
The programme that followed, "Epilepsy" did not make these mistakes, lhis programme wasn't too easy to put over because it was, mainly, one of propaganda.
It sought to inculcate into viewers the notion that epileptics are perfectly normal people except at certain times: there is nothing about their disease (the complicated mechanism of the brain fails for a minute or two) which warrants the horror and prejudice of people towards epilepsy.
The scriptwriter. Monica Furlong, sought to demonstrate this point by showing men and women epileptics behaving in a pleasant, normal manner. She let them speak for themselves, and how well they spoke too. Unforgettable was a tall middle-aged man, who said, "This is a burden you can take one way or the other. It can demoralise you, but if you can carry on with this burden and do your job as well as the next man, it gives you a sense of achievement."
Even more telling was the film taking during a Sports Day in a school for young epileptics. Boys and girls competed in obstacle races, bob-apple, and so on. They appeared to be, and indeed were normal childrei.
On the drama side the play which most creatively developed its thesis, and, incidentally, deepened the viewers' understanding of law and pure justice, was a 90-minute "special" in "The Defenders" series (BBC August 6). It was "Madman", a masterly play, which set out to show that the M'Naughten Rules on legal sanity are obsolete. This it succeeded in doing through a succession of ingenious dramatic situations.
The TV drama, by way of contrast, that failed to interest because it suffered a paralysis of ideas was the BBC's German play, "Night Express" by Herbert Reinecker (August I II.
This play opened strongly with an escaper from East Germany hoarding a carriage of the D.I06, the night express travelling through East Germany. The respectable travellers are confronted with the dilemma. are they, or are they not their brother's keeper? Should they help the man, or evade responsibility?
It is a gift of a situation, full of tension, but tension. by its nature, can only last so long. Reineeker established this situation at 9 p.m., when the play started, but by 9.30 by my clock, he had not developed it, merely embroidered on it. After 30 minutes of sterile drama, the play died, but I sat it out to the end. I couldn't have moved. Stasis. which must he catching. infected me also.