Thursday, 12 February 2009

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

The remake of Minder, starring Shane Ritchie on Channel 5 on Wednesday (and repeated on Saturday) has reopened the debate about what writers are writing, what commissioners are commissioning, and what viewers wants to see.

I've only seen the first episode of Minder, and wasn't overly impressed, but it's early days so my focus is not specifically on that show. But following other remakes like Survivors, and with more to come like The Day of the Triffids, the argument that writers are not coming up with good enough original drama has surfaced again. This is an argument I have never really understood. For one thing, the ultimate decision on what gets broadcast is down to commissioners, not writers. If you speak to producers and companies, they want to be more adventurous, not less so, but when push comes to shove consumer tastes are underestimated, everyone is scared for their job, and viewing figures are the bottom line. I should say however that I am not against remakes. I enjoy any show that's done well, regardless of the source material.

But one of the great pleasures of being a reader is that you get to see what's being written out there. And even in the little pile that comes my way, I've seen some really exciting, and very original stuff. Was it 'ready?' Well no, it wasn't. Is anything ever 'finished?' Probably not until it's actually on TV! So development is definitely needed. But if the same companies are going to the same pool of writers every time, is it not likely that you are going to get similar stuff?

I'm not completely naive. It's a bold move to commission a six part series from a new writer and one very rarely taken. But to claim the ideas are just not out there is not true. One possible solution is to team up a new writer, with a fantastic idea and spec pilot, with a more experienced one. I know that if I was lucky enough to get a series commissioned, I'd be thrilled, excited, but also pretty nervous! There's only a certain amount of work to go round, so finding an experienced hand to guide a younger one would probably not be so hard. Yes the money would have to be worked out. Companies are hardly going to want to pay two writers when they can just pay one. But I can only speak for myself when I say I'd be quite prepared to take a hit financially to get my first series on screen and be mentored by a seasoned pro.

If we want TV drama to survive in these testing times, some original thinking may just be what everyone needs. Commissioners like remakes for the same reason companies like to adapt novels. There's a perceived safety in having something tangible to see, that has already worked, to cling onto when taking the plunge into spending a lot of money on making something new. Go ahead, make them if you want, and if you do a good job I'll certainly be watching. But don't claim writers aren't coming up with good enough new ideas. They are, I've read them. And maybe I've even written a couple myself!

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