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10 on TV Drama: ITV’s New Drama

UPDATE: Friend of the blog Marc Pye wrote tonight’s episode I’ve just this minute found out, so watch it my friends!!!!!!!

English Dave makes the very good point that ITV *might* just be the new BBC: the likes of Echo Beach etc marks a new era for the channel under the leadership of “Micky Grade” as ED likes to call him and I for one am well up for it. Man.

Whilst many writers and would-be writers might say they “wouldn’t lower themselves” to write for the likes of Echo Beach, Moving Wallpaper, The Royal Today et al, the fact of the matter is these shows are there, are watched and more pressingly, are offering potential employment to people who have very shaky prospects otherwise. Is there anyone as mad as the writer with no work on the horizon saying, “Thanks for the offer Kudos, but you know what? I don’t like the show, so I’m not going to write for you, even though I have no fecking idea where my next bit of feature work is coming from and I have a mortgage to pay.” Yeah right! Then there’s also the fact that soap writers go on to do other things: it’s like their apprenticeship, the place they not only hone their craft but make contacts and go on to make their own stuff or have it made for them, they’re no longer an “unsafe bet”. Look at the evidence: Jimmy McGovern (from Brookside to Cracker to the Lakes etc). Danny Brocklehurst (Clocking Off to Talk To Me). John Fay (Brookside and Coronation Street to Mobile). Paul Abbott (Children’s Ward to Shameless etc). Lizzie Mickery (The Bill to The State Within). Oh yeah – and Tony Jordan anyone?!? SEE THEIR CAREERS GROW. You have to be a nutter to imagine being a writer in TV does not lead anywhere, but even if it doesn’t and you don’t get your own show out of it, you do get money for writing. That’s quite a novelty to millions of other scribes out there doing it simply for the love of it.

So my verdict on last night’s openers for Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach? Pleasantly surprised.

I thought the concept for having a show behind a show in MV first and then the soap was a horribly cynical advertsing ploy designed to attract teenagers who would in turn either watch the soap or grow up to watch the soap and maybe it is, but it didn’t come across as badly as my suspicions and even made some funny points about this notion. I was expecting a docudrama, having ignored most of the press stuff. I caught in the end only because I was catching up with the ironing (which is an unbelievably uncool thing to say, when did I get old?) and I actually thought it was mildly amusing and pretty watchable. I don’t know if I will bother to watch it every single time because it seems more of a sitcom than anything which aren’t really my bag, but if it’s on it won’t make me want to pluck out my eyes.

Echo Beach in comparison was a little Hollyoaks in Cornwall – but why not. Scenery was fabulous and I’m pretty sure I’ve been where it’s filmed, so that was nice. An impressive cast: Tiffany from Eastenders. Mrs. MacCluskey from Grange Hill. Mike Baldwin from Corrie. Scott from Neighbours. Whatsisname from Hollyoaks. A bunch of kids I recognise from various bit parts in other stuff. Oh and Hugo Speer. That was quite weird, I’ll always remember him in one of my fave Brit Films Deathwatch and of course as The Lunchbox in one of my least fave films Full Monty, so therefore not a “soap actor” in the classic regard in my view but hey, who cares. Conflict was set up adequately: the widower Danny (Jason Donovan) returns to the village after 20 years’ absence after leaving under a cloud, bringing his kids with him. Of course people are not pleased to see him, least of all Hugo Speer and Tiffany who are married (but their marriage seems on the rocks of course). There seems to be a Montague/Capulet thing brewing between Jase’s kids and the Speer kids too.

Oh – and there was BAD LANGUAGE in both. That made a refreshing change. We had a “bastards” and a “prick” and a barely audible “blow job” in MV, though I was surprised to hear one lad describe girls on the beach in the actual soap as “potential pussy”. I’m betting Ofcom had a few complaints about that one. But hell, people swear in real life a helluva a lot, it should be reflected – even just a bit – by soap. I’m not wanting lots of effing and blinding, but just a tad more would be good. We’re writers anyway, we swear all the bloody time and you know it.

So: to recap, I wasn’t blown away but I will be watching again tonight. What was your verdict on Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach?

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23 thoughts on “10 on TV Drama: ITV’s New Drama”

  1. I actually preferred Moving Wallpaper. Which was odd because as you say I was not expecting to like it all. But the soap itself – very stereotypical, you knew what was coming next and not in a good way like in Corrie with the whole Carla/Liam/Maria love triangle. That’s BOUND to end in tears, can’t wait for those confrontations. Though to be fair they’ve had 45 years as a “run up” for that one and Echo Beach hasn’t even aired for 45 minutes yet. Who knows? Only way is up!

  2. I agree Riboflavin, Echo Beach WAS rather predictable. But as a set up it was ok. Still want to see more before binning it off altogether in my mind I think – and it’s great to see Jase back in soap where he belongs. Wooooh!

    Mike – actually, I think the makers of Eldorado didn’t give it long enough before getting rid of it. If they had witheld the storm of media criticism that was bound to burn itself out after the first year, I reckon it could’ve been ok in the long run.

  3. Hate to be harsh, but they were both appallingly bad! Sure, MV is an amusing joke, but sooo poorly executed, and so unfunny. Compare it with even something as average as 30 Rock.

    People, we need to recognise crap when we see it, or we won’t be writing anything better.

    As for EB – admittedly it might evolve into something meaningful and richly textured. Or it might just stay banal and obvious.


  4. As ED rightly says however on his own blog, “all soaps are crap for the first year” (or words to that effect), so actually quality is not what I’m concerned about at this stage JB. Though having said that, I thought they were both alright – I recall the launch of Eastenders very well and even though I was a child, it wasn’t wonderful either. I don’t think any soap can be great on that very first episode: too much expectation is put on their shoulders AND soaps’ strength is in longevity, it’s like a cumulative effect. They can only be great in the long run as far as I’m concerned.

    What matters for me here is the fact ITV is willing to take a risk on material. That can only be a good thing for new writers.

  5. Point taken – and I’m feeling a bit embarrassed at being so harsh. I think I was more bothered by the mediocrity of MW – a sitcom/comedy drama really has to hit the ground running, and this one just seemed to hit the ground. Flump. Having said that, I thought that last night’s episode was better (and not just because it was written by a FOTB). On the other hand it has got me thinking about the benefits of the US system of writing teams, especially for comedy, where many minds are likely to be better than one in ramping up the laughter count. Dunno. What do you think?


  6. Don’t be embarrassed, you’re entitled to your opinion JB! The problem I have with MW is how long it can last – is the idea that it helps Echo Beach launch and then fades away? Or is it supposed to “run and run” alongside the soap and in which case, where is the longevity? Tim has some good thoughts on this too over at his own blog:

    As for comedy writing teams – I’m really not sure if they’re the answer or not. After all, some of my fave comedies – Fawlty Towers, Bottom, Blackadder – have not been the product of teams and I don’t tend to like team-written comedies like Friends etc… But this argument falls down when it comes to stuff like Simpsons and My Family which I do like. So hard to know really!

  7. I agree, I resist the idea of teams, but Blackadder and Fawlty Towers (also two of my favourites) were both written by two writers working together (Richard Curtis/Ben Elton and John Cleese/ Connie Booth)! Don’t know about Bottom.


  8. I realise that JB but I don’t think of just two people who have their own idea as being a team in the same sense as six or seven writers being hired and put in a room together by a studio or network with the intention of writing something that producers have come up with. Having said that, I am assuming Blackadder and FT was conceived by its writers rather than commissioned by some producers, I actually have no idea if this is true or not. Maybe the notion of writing teams just doesn’t appeal to the romantic in me?

    Bottom was written by Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson btw. And presumably made up by them… Tho who knows. Lol.

  9. I suppose I was thinking of a team as anything more than just one writer writing alone, two people bouncing ideas of one another being far more likely to lead to something consistently funny, rather than the hit and miss of a single writer fumbling around in the dark. I say this as someone who writes alone (though as with life, would love to meet my significant other, comedically speaking).


  10. …and (continuing the previous message with an afterthought and returning to my original point) having a second comedy brain on something like an episode of Moving Wallpaper would mean less liklihood of rubbish humour slipping through the net, as so much seems to have done in both episodes so far.

    I realise just how difficult writing comedy is – perhaps why I feel two people are likely to do it better!


  11. Well “they” certainly say “two heads are better than one”! Personally as a reader I haven’t actually noticed whether comedy scripts coming through Bang2write are funnier or not with two or more writers, that’s an interesting point… I feel a post on it coming on sometime, cheers JB!

  12. People are presuming Echo Beach is supposed to be an actual soap, but my Radio Times lists episodes of both as (for example) ‘3/12’.

    Is there any reason to think that Echo Beach is intended by anyone to be an actual weekly soap, as opposed to a returning serial soap spoof, 12-13 episodes every year or so?

    Anyway, like the others, I was disappointed. Moving Wallpaper didn’t do anything to stand out from any other behind-the-scenes-at-TV series. The characters were all pretty predictable examples of their types, the big drama of the second episode was contrived (would even a junior assistant think that she should send the payroll details to everybody?), didn’t lead anywhere and the resolution was meaningless (the producer solves it by giving everybody raises from the savings he makes by canceling a cameo… that he hadn’t wanted in the first place).

    I guess what I don’t get from it is any sense of a coherent whole. It’s almost like a sketch show, where you have ‘wouldn’t it be funny if’ bits (soap awards, casting couch gags, etc) but no overview.

    which isn’t to say there aren’t some good lines that made me laugh out loud.

    As for Echo Beach, well, Drop the Dead Donkey got this right: if you’re going to make a TV show about the making of a crap TV show, don’t force us to actually sit through entire episodes of the crap TV show. Just give us the worst and therefore funniest bits.

  13. Drop the Dead Donkey! I loved that… I wonder if it would be funny now tho? I sat through Red Dwarf recently, something I found so funny at the time, and just winced.

    Are we running out of comedy?

  14. Isn’t Tony Jordan keen on bringing in the US system of writing teams? I assumed the Red Planet Prize was being used partly to find some potential writers for such a team…

  15. Team writing sounds horrible to me.

    Firstly as a viewer, where fewer and fewer US drama series keep my attention for more than a year after I notice that they are basically churning the same sausage meat out in the same package year after year. (Comedies are different — who cares if the episodes are all the same if they keep making you laugh?)

    And secondly as a writer — because if what I wanted was to have a highly-paid indoor with no heavy lifting that involves churning out semi-creative stuff to a vague specification agreed with a customer, I’d give up the idea of writing and keep my job programming computer games.

    What’s the point of being a writer if you can’t say what you want to say, rather than trying to immitate the showrunner’s voice?

    Seriously, if you’re happy to be part of a writing team, just learn C++ and you can be part of a sausage factory just as much as you can in Tony Jordan’s production company — with more job security too!

  16. Anon – I heard that TJ was keen on the notion of teams too, don’t know if it’s true though, read on the ‘net somewhere I think.

    SK – teams don’t appeal to my romantic side either, but to say that all output via teams is tantamount to a “sausage factory” appeals even less. I don’t believe a different methodology kills off creativity and certainly there are many programmes produced by teams that I like a great deal and many that aren’t that I think totally suck, so I don’t think it always follows.

  17. It’s not so much the end result that I object to, as the very philosophy that everything should come out sounding like it came from one pen.

    The whole point of team writing, at least as I understand it, is to enable the creation of more product per year than would be possible with one person, in order to establish greater awareness and loyalty in the viewer (they get to know the characters and be more comfortable with and attached to them if they’re on TV 10 months a year than if they’re on for six weeks at a time). That is, it’s a fundamentally economic rather than an artistic strategy.

    Now, I’m not saying that all team-written shows necessarily suck, but they do almost all have a studied blandness and do the same stories again again. Part of that is I think due to the team-writing (you can’t have anything too quirky, as then the other members of the team won’t be able to duplicate it and the object of team writing is that episodes shouldn’t be distinctive) and part of that is due to other economic concerns that go hand-in-hand with team-writing (if you’re doing twenty-plus episodes a year then they can’t all be important episodes that get to the heart of the drama that drives the character and situation; most of them will be disposable filler, either ‘case/monster/whatever of the week’ in a series of mostly-standalones or ‘treadwater episodes’ in a programme with an ongoing plot like ‘Heroes’ or ‘Lost’). This latter problem you don’t get so much in team-written series that only last six or thirteen episodes, of course.

    It is, at least I think as a viewer, a much greater problem in drama than comedy: it doesn’t really matter if a comedy episode goes nowhere as long as it makes you laugh, but what’s the point of a drama episode that just does the same story you saw last week only set in a different neighbourhood / with a different murder weapon / supernatural entity? What’s the point of an episode where the team just solve yet another crime, or cure yet another disease?

    That’s as a viewer; as a writer, as I say, I don’t think I’d see the point of being given an outline, writing to that outline, and then having the turned-in work rewritten again to make it fit in with the house style. It might pay the bills, but there are more secure and less stressful ways to pay the bills. I would think the only reason to write is not to pay the bills but because you have a burning desire to communicate, and I’m not sure how much of yourself you can communicate when you’re told what to write about and how to write it, and then all the personality is sanded off so your episode doesn’t stand out.

    The alternative to team-writing would be anthology-writing, where writers are encouraged to put a personal spin on their stories (and to come up with ones that they personally care about, rather than being assigned them by the showrunner) and there’s no attempt to make things consistent: the way old ‘Doctor who’ was done, when you couldn’t mistake a Robert Holmes script from an Eric Saward, as opposed to new ‘Doctor Who’ where everything (apart from Moffat’s) sounds like it’s been written by Russell T. Davies. Unfortunately that whole concept seems to have died a death as broadcasters become ever more risk-averse (and at least on ‘Doctor Who’ it did produce some spectacular failures as well as the successes).

  18. “That is, it’s a fundamentally economic rather than an artistic strategy.”

    I don’t think there’s anything special about team writing in that SK: TV AND film, whether we like it or not, are about commerce every bit as much as art. How can they not be? Money makes them and generally they have to make money.

    I think there’s every chance of saying what you need to say within those perimeters however: it is possible to see certain writers’ traits come out even within the more formulaic shows – you say it yourself re: Stephen Moffatt. It is a stressful way to make a living however, I would agree with you on that one – I’ve heard of so many writers having to write and re-write with literally seconds to spare before the deadline!

  19. This seems like a happening thread, so I thought I’d dangle a while. Haven’t found out when Echo Beach is on yet, but would like to watch. Can’t believe the BBC are throwing Neighbours into the jaws of Five. I still find Red dwarf very amusing, and Bottom, love the violence! Oh haven’t seen moving wallpaper either!

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