Maybe it is because of the vast history, imperialism, the class system or all of the above, here in Blighty, in both film an television, there is a nostalgic longing for stories of the past. The national broadcaster, the BBC, mostly showcase the coming seasonal output by featuring some extravagant costume drama, featuring rose-cheeked ladies and upper middle class gentlemen, generally with some love lorn central characters and a ne’er do well, male or female, wanting to be accepted by the affluent classes, yet not wanting to compromise their ideals and remaining true to their roots.
Now, as an occasional series or drama, costumed fare is great, not really my thing, but all television is not made for yours truly. I get that. Still, the almost propaganda like output of material that only a small section of society can relate to – and having spent a good deal of time around those considered socially affluent and old world, I can attest to the fact that they are not big on watching television – why do British programme makers insist on churning out so many similar dramas?
It is not as though there is a massive want for such shows. In 2016 of the top twenty shows watched on U.K. television, five were American shows, eight were reality shows, three were factual or documentary, that leaves four dramas or comedy shows. One was an animated children’s Christmas show, one was a police drama, the third is another take on Conan Doyle’s great detective, leaving one show to satisfy the seemingly huge appetite for costume drama in this country. That show was Call The Midwife and there is not a bustier in sight, nor a country estate.
Stateside they churn and admittedly cancel, tens of shows year on year. There is no relentless hawking backing to times past, or a seeming necessity to represent just one section of society. Maybe it is the absence of a class system that hasn’t influenced their output. Their shows are also popular worldwide, something that is possibly to do with their approach to television writing as well as the subjects and characters they decide to focus on.
Whereas here in the U.K. there seems an almost nepotistic, boys-club approach to who writes and produces the content for the main broadcasters, with programmes utilising one or two writers for anything from comedy through to drama, the US takes a different approach. They tend to use a writers’ room, groups of writers working together to make a script the best it can possibly be. That is one of the reasons they have such popular comedy, they already know the jokes can make a room of people laugh. The same can be said for drama and suspense, if it can have the desired emotional effect in the writers’ room, it will probably work on the show and on the watching masses.
This does not seem to be a consideration when it comes to British television. You can pretty much guarantee that every season the BBC will premiere a costume drama of some description, whether it is an adaptation of a classic novel, Austen, Hardy and Dickens are particularly popular, or fictionalised imagining of some part of Victorian, Tudor or medieval England, there is always a new way of telling an old story.
That is not to say they do not produce modern works. It just seems that new, modern works are not produced or promoted with the same gusto as the period stuff. It not even that the period stuff is bad, after all when you have had so much practice producing it, you’re bound to be good at it. But it does not reflect nor acknowledge large swathes of history on these shores.
The national broadcaster does a lot of things well; news coverage, documentary programmes, light entertainment such as gameshows, but this obsession with ye old England of days gone by is not only irritating, it is divisive and ignores large sections of the populace who feel that, as British citizens, it would be nice if their stories were occasionally acknowledged.