Opinion: Why Is An Idea Worth Less Than A Brand?

Reading & Writing, The Arts

There’s much hand-wringing about expenses and salaries in the press at the moment. The BBC seems to be suffering such a desperate dearth of ideas that all they can think of doing is throwing money at existing ‘faces’, but the idea-generators, the writers, are still on a pittance. This is highlighted when you consider that the charisma-free talent-vacuum Jonathan Ross gets 6 million a year, while the average salary for a novel writer is between 7 and 9 thousand pounds a year. Ross does the same thing that a great many writers do every year – interviewing celebrities on stage – but we don’t get paid at all for doing that part of our jobs.
It wouldn’t be so bad if – like Ross – there was a chance of picking up other wages in the form of spin-offs. Writers, after all, may have their work translated into other formats. But fewer TV and film opportunities than ever arise from published work. The average short story earns an established writer between £50 and £100 and may take weeks to write. But TV is really only interested in filming proven product; Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. Now we see the BBC’s Hitchhiker franchise being taken up by a new writer pretending to be Douglas Adams because the brand carries strong recognition. The message is clear: Don’t come to us with new ideas – we’re scared of them.

What Does He Actually Do?

What Does He Actually Do?

6 comments on “Opinion: Why Is An Idea Worth Less Than A Brand?”

  1. Ian says:

    ITV’s decision not to show drama on weekdays (except soaps) until after 9 am is a kick in the teeth for an already seriously wounded British TV drama industry. So is the influence of WGBH in Boston (co-producers of almost everything). It’s not just that you can only do Dickens, you can only do certain Dickens! Andrew Davies pitched Dombey and Son and was told that it wasn’t famous enough.

    It’s all hacking away. You can pinpoint the nails in the coffin (D’oh! Mixed metaphor!) as they were hammered in. The loss of the BBC Sunday tea-time serial was critical. Not only did it provide a lot of work, buit it inspired children for decades to read the stories the serials were based on, and even if they didn’t, they left one able, thirty years down the line (okay, amybe a bit more than thirty) with some awareness of the plotlines of Treasure Island, The Prisoner of Zenda, Dombey and Son etc., etc.

    Advertising is down, split across different channels and media. The BBC spends so much on 24 hour news and web presence it feels the pinch (even Doctor Who, a vast money-spinner, has had two million quid knocked off the budget).

    Drama? Unless it’s a banker, forget it.

  2. I.A.M. says:

    Ian’s got it spot-on (he’s got good name, too). Plus if the budgets are being slimmed, you need to go with the guaranteed earner: something that works now, or did work recently. ‘New’ is ‘un-tested’, and therefore ‘risky’ and ‘dangerous’. It was the same with casting and script selecting of theatre here in Vancouver, although that seems to be changing in the last few years.

    Upstairs Downstairs is coming back, you know…

  3. Helen Martin says:

    No one can be Douglas Adams except Douglas Adams – and he’s dead. I used to think that the constant cry for something new meant that things were thrown away before they were finished with, but this hanging onto things when they are really done means nothing new ever gets done. Can’t we find something in between? North American series are rarely given a fair trial and then are dumped about the time the audience finds them, leaving WKRP or Firefly viewers with the few episodes that were aired. (Speaking of WKRP- British readers skip to end of parentheses – I saw a very nice interview with Tim Reid [Venus Flytrap] where he talked about his film studio and his work.) Could they try some other authors besides the 3 Chris mentioned? Start with Thackeray (I know Vanity Fair was done, but whatever) and go on to John Buchan (NOT The Thirty-nine Steps) or Delderfield’s Swan trilogy (To Serve Them all My Days was done) or Terry Pratchett’s Disc World or Timothy Findlay’ Spadework or Elizabeth Rex

  4. David Read says:

    If the wretched versions of Pratchett on Sky are anything to go by I hope we see no more.

    I think the ‘Literature series’ that the BBC produce are just a way to assuage the guilt some must feel at the rampant tripe of reality TV that fills our screen.

    Whether we are following a celebrity’s shopping habits, having our house done up, or more publicity hungry celebs dancing, the BBC is becoming like any other broadcaster, filling the screens with throwaway crap.

    Do these broadcasters not think of what their archives will look like in 30 years time?

    It’s not that it has to be high brow, a repeat of The Avengers, The Sweeney or Morse will keep me hooked. It just needs to be entertainment with a modicum of thought behind it, and sense that the contributors were thinking about more than merchandise sales.

    I love a good documentary, but these days they are mostly so dumbed down I can get the same info from a thousand words in an article.

    Plus, heaven forbid someone might get bored by learning something, we have to put up with visual gimmicks like wobbly cameras, and side shots showing the crew and equipment filming the interviewee. Surely we got past that stage in TW3 about 40 years ago, and that was by necessity?

    I admit I am biased, I was predominately a cameraman for 15 years (some broadcast, mostly corporate) and I am appalled by the quality I see on TV.

    I am not saying you should always use a tripod or decent lighting, but surely you should not just flail around because the interviewee is not holding the attention of the viewer? I have found as one gets getter at ones job, one uses gimmicks less and less, relying on your experience to do a good job, and even in a documentary, that’s the story and the conflicts behind it.

    The BBC should look at their output and wonder why it is such a lot of surface gloss, as it hints at a deeper problem.

    I listened to the Apollo documentary on radio 4 a few weeks ago, brilliant, no narrator, just interviews and newsreel seamlessly linking into each other to tell the story, quite a few TV producers could do well to listen to radio occasionally.

    As for money, as usual 90% of it ends up in 10% of the peoples hands. So if the BBC has to cut costs, there seems some fairly obvious places to start.

    As for old Wossy, I have some sympathy. I met him once and he was polite and professional, which does count for something. Also back in the eighties his ‘incredibly strange film show’ introduced me to Sammo Hung, which has produced lots of fun hours in front of the TV.

    My feeling with Jonathon Ross, is that if his salary had not been so stupid, people would see him as a take him or leave him celeb.

    Sadly his salary works out about £10,000 a nob gag and would much rather Rik Mayall got the money as his nob gags are of a different order of excellence….

    That was a long ramble.. sorry!

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