Over the past 48 hours we’ve discovered that those who make and present programmes for BBC Three are opposed to its axing and that those who value quality TV can look forward to £30m of extra investment in BBC One’s drama.
The first of these is unsurprising.
Broadcasters which have to attract audiences and sell adverts to fund shows will have no interest in the crummier aspects of BBC Three’s output so some pretty awful shows will vanish and the creative forces behind them will have to do a lot better to sell their future wares.
The second is very welcome news.
For far too long the BBC’s drama budgets have been shaved and sliced until there’s scarcely enough to produce anything watchable.
Much-hyped shows such as The White Queen, The Musketeers and Atlantis end up looking good but feeling pretty hollow. Everything’s superficial with plots so thin that it’s almost impossible to recall what happened just minutes after the episodes have finished.
Other series such as Casualty or Holby City either end up spreading their set piece stunts over the season or scaling down the number of episodes to meet the reduced budgets.
As cast members depart shows they’re replaced by the cheapest half-familiar faces producers can find.
There are still some decent shows – Last Tango in Halifax with a stellar cast and great location filming – but these are increasingly the exception.
The blame for all this rests firmly at the feet of former Director General Mark Thompson and his hand-picked team of over paid – and over paid-off – Apprentice wannabes.
Between them they appear to have made two major decisions – firstly not to take any tough decisions, and secondly to keep creating high-paid executive jobs to keep themselves and their mates employed without being responsible or accountable for anything.
Every press release announcing the commissioning of even the most simple of of shows carries the names of at least two BBC commissioners or controllers. The rationale seems to be that if lots of you take a decision and it goes wrong, it’s much harder to pick out an individual to carry the blame.
This aversion to decision making is why the BBC has been carrying the dead weight of BBC Three for at least 4 years after it stopped making very much of note or worth.
Occasional stand-out shows such as Our War don’t justify a £90m a year job creation scheme for comedians who happen to know someone high-up at the BBC.
And the story of brave young soldiers serving on the front line deserves to be aired in prime time on BBC One, not squeezed between repeats of Hotter than My Daughter, Don’t Tell the Bride and My Big Breasts.
By avoiding the decision to pull the channel, the BBC’s former management damaged the broadcaster’s wider output by starving it of the cash needed to be truly great.
In the Thompson era BBC, programmes were ‘great’ and ‘ground-breaking’ simply because you proclaimed them to be.
But free of the corporation’s reality distortion field, viewers have known for years that what’s on the label and what’s actually in the can aren’t quite the same thing.
So it’s welcome that Lord Tony Hall, Thompson’s successor, has taken the tough but necessary decision to save cash by moving BBC Three online and bolster drama budgets by £30m.
Within the BBC £30m is a lot of cash – it’ll pay for around 40-45 hours of major, prime time drama – so we should be hopeful that audiences will spot the benefits once it starts arriving in programme budgets.
The BBC should use this windfall both to bolster existing shows which have had to resort to ‘Oh, that’ll do’ programme making and invest in new, original shows which challenge and entertain audiences.
I recent years there’s been far too little of the meticulous attention to detail and careful plotting which helped Spooks rise to become one of the BBC’s most successful shows in recent years.
But that’s the level of ambition the BBC and its production partners need to muster if BBC drama is to return to its former glory.