THERE is a treasure hunt in progress in the world of television, and it is exercising the minds of just about everyone from the top executives downwards, night and day. For somewhere out there is the Big New Idea in TV drama, and whoever finds it will reap the Ifighest rewards the industry can offer. Period pieces, it seems, are out. So, at least for the moment, are medicine and law (that's a relief). There is no room, of course, for the notion that a series set on a desert island would work perfectly if it were only well written; what is required is a new setting which will grip the public, a character who can engage and sustain the viewer's interest. The last time such an original formula appeared it was called Cracker, and excellent it was for a while. But even the best ideas run out of steam sooner or later, and the gigantic form of Robbie Coltrane has left a great gaping hole in the schedules. A series about the adventures of a harbour master cries desperation, and even Harbour Lights ii tragically due for a second season.These are dark times.
There are other assumptions to be taken into account. For example, John Thaw and David Jaion can do no wrong. If you can afford them, the undivided attention of 10 million viewers will be yoursfor the taking, no matter how grotesquely miscast the might be. Both have been superb in their time. But Tiaw was little better than a lump of wood in the tedious A Year in Provence, while Jason, whose work in comedy justly made him a household name, is stretcied far beyond his range in A Touch of Frost. It doesrt seem to make a whit of difference.
So I was on the point of suggesting a seric about the daily travails of a prominent Catholic twspaper, in which Jason would play the editor (Joh Thaw would play the Pope), but sadly this otherwistexcellent concept falls foul of another piece of reeived wisdom. The public, so the thinking goes,ias no interest in the media, except as the object of skre and ridicule. This would show a healthy scepticisron the part of the public, but I'm not sure I believe Does anyone remember Gerald Harper as the propetor of a provincial paper in Gazette? He was so polilar he even starred in a spin-off, Hadleigh, but tlit was, admittedly, 30 years ago, and maybe tasta have changed.
However it would be characteristic of the IT business to stare long and hard into its own n al for a solution to its problems, so perhaps the med angle should not be dismissed so lightly. The explion of talk shows involving members of the publipitted against the prejudices of, er, members of the Olio has been the great British broadcasting phenomena of the last 15 years, imported, of course, from thcnited States. The formula has surely peaked — or trighed, if you will — in the form of Jerry Springeand is likely to be remembered as afin de siècle curicty. But the hosts of such programmes have a pretty iteresting time of it one way or another, and woulsurely provide the basis of a strong character and acilmost infinite stream of plotlines. If millions of v iea-s are held spellbound by stories of how people vvi up in a casualty ward week by week, then the gluorous setting of a TV studio ought to be capable ad* coloitation on the same principle. All the ingreduts are there — high pressure, competing persolities, constant ethical dilemmas to be addressed. Ai intelligently handled — always a large assumpti — a drama series with this particular setting rrng even provide us with some useful insight into 1,v and why programmes get made, and expose the Ftgrammers to the thoughtful scrutiny of their custom_ Ah. Oh well. Back to the drawing board.