tv The Media Show BBC News August 22, 2022 1:30am-2:01am BST
hello. in march this year, the bbc gave one of its biggest soaps, holby city, a do not resuscitate order after 23 years. injuly, channel 5 decided we no longer needed good neighbours and the sun went down on ramsay street after 37 years. but cast your minds back to christmas day, 1986. anyone remember this? this, my sweet, is a letter from my solicitor telling you that your husband has filed a petition for divorce. happy christmas, ange. that was dirty den handing angie watts divorce papers after she'd lied to him about having six that was dirty den handing angie watts divorce papers after she'd lied to him about having six months left to live. 30 million people tuned in to watch that episode of eastenders, more than half the population.
today, the show averages between 4 and 6 million per episode, much of it through iplayer. so do soaps matter any more? what's their place in the cultural landscape? are we going through a messy den and angie divorce with them? or is it still enduring love, like scott and charlene? i'm joined by sir phil redmond, creator of three of the biggest british soaps of all time — grange hill, brookside and hollyoa ks. daniel kilkenny is soaps editor for entertainment news website digital spy. tv critic and soap fan emma bullimore is here, and charles collingwood, who's been farming, flirting and digging into his wife's venison pie for a whopping 47 years as brian in the archers. welcome to you all and thanks for coming on the show. phil, if we start with you, all the big soaps — eastenders, coronation street, emmerdale — have seen huge drops in audience numbers in recent years. you've criticised soaps for not tackling big social issues like they used to. do you think it's the end of the road for them? i think in the current climate, it looks quite pessimistic,
but i believe that they shouldn't be, because you have to go all the way right back to the cave drawings and people have always had this insatiable desire for storytelling. and, you know, you can run all the way through history, through the greek tragedies, etc, through shakespeare, through dickens. people always want original storytelling. they want original drama. and i think everybody, even now, if you look across the streamers and the film industry, they're all looking for long runners. they're looking for things that will have sequels. that are franchises. look at the marvel universe, for example. and once you've got something that the audience latches onto, you want to keep it, you want to keep doing it. i think it's the cheapest form, the most effective form to keep that connection and satisfy that insatiable appetite for original storytelling. daniel, i mean, neighbours and holby both came to an end this year, as i said. was it a coincidence that they finished within
months of each other? and what are the reasons behind those decisions to axe them? well, they were both axed for completely different reasons, and neither of them are really much to do with the ratings. in the case of holby city, the bbc was really open about the fact that it wanted to film more drama outside of london, so it took the money that it was spending on holby and it's taking that money now to reboot waterloo road, another continuing drama which will be filmed in manchester. yeah, which it's bringing back, isn't it? yeah. so i think in that case, it shows that the bbc isn't turning its back on continuing drama, it's pretty much replacing like—for—like but in a different location... south to north. yes. and in the case of neighbours, again, that was completely different reasons. it was still doing very well. it was one of the top rated shows on channel 5, even though it airs in the daytime — or aired in the daytime. wasn't bringing in enough
advertising revenue, right? yes, it was advertising revenue. obviously, daytime advertising revenue isn't as big as in the evening. so channel 5, after showing neighbours for 14 years, felt it was better to invest in post—watershed shows. obviously, channel 5 has reinvented itself pretty well in the past four years or so with 9pm dramas and new documentaries, so i think that was part of it as well. right, ok. and, emma, i mean, one thing we do know is that soaps face stiff competition from the likes of structured reality shows like love island, but also, you know, highly personalised social media feeds like tiktok. you know, how can the dingles and the barlows compete with that? it's really tricky. and interesting... thinking about the case of neighbours, there i are so many people that hadn'tl watched it for decades and were still devastated it was going. you know, the relationship| we have with these soaps — we want them to be there even if we're not actuallyl engaging with them any more.
there's so much nostalgia that feeds into it. - in terms of who's taking - the viewers away, i don't think it's as simple as "everyone's watching love island" - or "everyone's - watching i'm a celeb." it's not that- straightforward... that's just a lot more choice. there's so much more choice! you know, i grew upi in a household where the tv was always on, i and if there was nothing on those four channels, well, you just picked... | you maybe had to read a book! no, joking. just find the best thing on telly. you'd just find the best out of those worst things. - yeah. whereas now there's just i so many different options, and you don't have to even rely on what is streaming _ or on tv at that time. you can go back and watch a box set, whatever it might be. - so there's so many demands. on your attention, and i think, you know, when soaps do things well, there's nothing better — i when you get really hooked i into one of those storylines, with characters that - you've known for years, decades in some cases. but those storylines have to be strong enough. - they can't just rely on their. brand to get people to watch. yeah, and we'll come onto those storylines later. charles, i wonder, from the perspective of you in the green room at ambridge, are people feeling nervous about
the demise of soaps? are people worried about their jobs and getting their agents on the phone and saying, "i might need something else"? well, yeah. i mean, actors are always worried about theirjobs. i've yet to meet a secure actor. in fact, when i firstjoined it in 1974 as a sort of quite young man, the man alan devereux, who played sid perks, who ran the pub, had been in it for ages. i thought he was wonderful. and i remember going up to him saying, "you are so lucky! it must be wonderful to be in a programme with so much security!" and through gritted teeth, he looked at me and said, "it is that very security that makes us feel insecure." and he was absolutely right, because you can never agree... i mean, my character years ago, thank god, you know, i was on a life support machine in birmingham general hospital, having been knocked over by a bse—ridden cow. iwas... my character bought an aeroplane, an aeroplane. i said to the producer, "does it crash?" because... i didn't care, but, you know, no mileage for me as an actor, the things going to plummet
into the ground! unfortunately for all of us, he or she said, "no, it doesn't crash. you're all right." thank god, yeah! i want to get on with phil onto sort of the actual process of putting soaps together. but, daniel, just before we do that, what kinds of numbers, briefly, do the big soaps get these days? and how much of it is linear viewing? they get between about 3 and 5 million viewers, depending on the time of year, depending on if there's a big storyline. i'd say the catch—up ratings tend to be about! million for the big soaps. i think eastenders is viewed slightly more on iplayer than the itv shows are with the itv hub, though. well, let's have a look at the creative process. the turnaround time for making soaps is really fast, as i understand it. from commissioning a story to transmission is around 16 weeks for a daily show like eastenders, 20 weeks for a weekly show like casualty. phil, when you're tackling, you know, issues, really
sometimes very thorny issues, like sexual assault or drugs, you must know that it's going to cause a stir. what do you want to achieve, sir phil, when you're coming up with these stories? well, all those things are reallyjust the... they're the high spots that you actually sort of entice the rest of the media in to talk about the show, you know... to get some publicity? yeah. yeah, obviously. i mean, you know, i used to be accused of sort of doing the cynical, ratings—grabbing exercises. and, you know, my point to the media is, "and your point is what?" so you weren't saying, "no, i'm not doing that." you were saying, "yes, i am." the job was to get the biggest numbers that we could for channel 4. you know, and it's quite interesting listening to the numbers now, cos if we'd have reached some of those numbers back in the day, we'd have been pulled, you know? but i was quite interested listening... when you threw out those figures about the time from storyline to script, i think that's one of the big problems that's happened — you know, that people have forgotten how difficult they are, actually, to make. and our storylines always
were two years in the making. you know, we'd have a two—year plan, then an 18—month, then i2—month long—term planning, and then a storyline conference every month ahead of the scripts, and i think there's been a lot of kind of, like, disrespect, really, for both the production and also for the audience in soaps over the years. but how do you decide on storylines? you know, do you sit down, or did you sit down, with writers and think, you know, i don't know, drug addiction, and then decide, "ok, well, we're going to give it to that character." is it as mechanical as that? do you then sort of thread it through in those two years where you're thinking about it? you need people who really enjoy the form and really enjoy that creative challenge of revisiting the same storyline with a different perspective, with different characters. because we didn't have a list on the wall that says "now we do drugs" or whatever, it was whatever was growing within society. what were people actually concerned about? you know, i mean, right now, you know, there could be
fantastic storylines coming out of the pandemic, coming out of brexit — the worry about the cost of living, you know, immigrants coming in, ukraine. these are all fantastically fertile ground for what the people are really interested in. and are we seeing it on the soaps, do you think? i don't seem to see it across the landscape. you know, but it's there. and if you do it, they'll listen to it. because remember that... i used to always say to our teams that you have to remember, and we alluded to it earlier, television is a second choice activity. people flock to watch when they've got nothing else to do. and this is why we used to... we used to lose 1.5—2 million viewers as soon as the clocks went forward and people realised they had an extra hour of daylight to go outside. but these days, you know, people are wasting 30 minutes, 45 minutes going through a streaming platform, trying to find something to watch, and they give up. so there's an audience there with an appetite for drama that is ready to be picked up on, you know, so ijust think it's kind of like finding the right cue
and finding the right storyline and, you know, putting them on the right platform. and they will work. they will work. and, emma, in terms of those storylines, you know, we were talking about some of the issues that could be going into soaps, but certainly we know there've been big storylines in charles�*s show about domestic abuse, amongst other places, you know, drug addiction, whatever it might be. why, to your mind, are soaps the right vehicle for these issues? how do they do them differently? it's to do with characters. there is no other programme where you can live with - a character for 20 yearsl and see them four times a week and really feel - like there's somebody that has visited your home. if you think about the way that hayley died in coronation - street, one of their biggest storylines of the last - couple of decades, _ the reason it was so powerful is because we felt. like she was a friend. we'd lived with her, _ we'd lived her ups and downs, and then it just absolutely was a sucker punch. - so i think that's where . they can be so powerful. recently, soaps have had this obsession with gangsters, - i've noticed, all these things, and ijust think, "that's- totallyjust kind of" — i as phil was alluding to —
"the wrong way to go." we want to see our. own lives reflected — in a heightened way. we're not looking for. everything to be super realistic, but you wantl something that you can sort of latch onto. it's interesting thinking about the possibility i of a new soap and streamers, because the problem - with netflix and all- the streamers is that they've got no patience. we're seeing them axe things after one seriesjust- because they didn't quite do as brilliantly as _ they wanted them to. that's so different from - the old model of television. you know, something - like only fools and horses did really badly in the first couple of series and, i by series 3, it kind of got - some momentum and it did well. and there's so many examples of that. i isn't that more about the business model? their business model is churn. their business model is trying to find new subscribers. to get new subscribers, you've got to constantly say to them, "here's new content." and that's what i mean about this 30 minutes, this 45 minutes that everybody wastes trying to find new things. it's like, "new today", "released today", "now coming"... but actually, you look at it for ten minutes, next, next, ten minutes, next.
so then, actually... i mean, i would stick my neck out and say, like, quality is not really on the top of their list. it's newness. and the amount of cash that's coming through in the subscriptions allows them just to sort of buy that new audience all the time, to keep the churn going. but they're learning. i mean, they're learning now that they're spending 12 million, 15 million, 20 million on dramas and it's not lasting, you know? and someone says to them, "you know, for 15 to 20 million, we could give you something that would keep i million people coming back every single day, you know?" that's what i mean — they're on the journey. it'll take them a while to get there. i'm going to bring charles in, cos obviously the archers is always quality. and one of brian's big storylines was the affair he had with siobhan, which resulted in a son, ruairi. what is it like, as an actor, to be at the centre of something that everybody is talking about? well, that was almost career—changing for me. it was so popular that people were ringing me up, saying, "if you look at frost on sunday this morning, he's been
reviewing the papers, and he's not been talking about the news, he's been looking at pictures of you and your illegitimate child and your mistress!" and that's what everybody�*s talking about. so... but these stories... phil said this — these stories come along in a soap opera every now and again. mostly, it's run—of—the—mill. it's called, "an everyday story of country folk." and mostly, it's like that. but when you bring in a story like i had, it gives the whole thing a lift. people are surprised with a story as strong as that, and it's up to me as an actor to to make it as exciting and as believable as possible, and people seemed to be quite happy with it. i'm glad to hear it. and, phil, you touched on it earlier, and you're saying getting, you know, a bit of abuse from the media, saying, you know, "these storylines are getting ridiculous." but did you ever think, i don't know, in terms of brookside — brainwashing, cults, hostage situations, hit men — did you ever think, "we have gone a bit too far with this one"? yeah, yeah.
i mean, that's when i started to think that it was time to sort of move on, really, you know? and, you know, i've always defended our production crews, and i'll also defend every other production crew on a soap, because one of the issues that happened in the sort of �*90s, really, you know, started happening, the broadcasters themselves kept asking for more and more and more and more sensation. you know, they wanted more... they wanted more and more episodes, they want bigger and bigger storylines, and that inevitably led to trying to top the last one, trying to top the last one. and one of our watchwords was, "ok, that's the big story. now it's back to putting up shelves," you know, because you have to sort of take those beats, you have to take those pauses with the audience. and if you keep throwing it in, you burn up storylines so fast that, in the end, itjust becomes... itjust becomes wallpaper in the end, you know? now, let's think about being in soaps. let's talk about being in them. charles, you joined the archers in 1975, almost 50 years ago, so i guess you've got the best insight of what it's like to be in a soap. i mean, how much say do you get
over your character? i mean, what happens if you don't think a storyline�*s right for brian? well, i'm afraid you bite the bullet and say the words. actors are given the scripts, in television, they learn them and, us, we turn the pages over silently, reading them. and sometimes if we don't like the story, we say it... well, we say it anyway cos we're getting paid. but i've always thought with the archers, for me, joining all those years ago, that the writers didn't know who brian was. in 1974, i was a vehicle to marryjennifer, and there was no cv. he was a cardboard cutout going out with this woman. and i said to the producer, "look, you've got to make brian have some history." and he went, "yes!" so the next time i was in an episode, i was having a drink with tony archer, and he said, "where do you come from, brian?" he said, "oh, i was in paris studying, and then my parents
were killed in the car crash, and so i inherited a lot of money. and i'd been a farmer when i was younger, and so i brought home farm. now, can i buy you another pint?" there we go — character, right there in four easy lines! character development. i love it! but over the years, it develops. and i personally think, and i would say this to young actors who join the archers, and i wonder if it applies to television — phil would know — that when i started playing brian, i tried to bring something more to the character than the writers had initially thought themselves, to give them a hook and think, "ooh, that's exciting!" and so i did actually put in a sort of slightly... he laughs ..side to my character, which of course made him a womaniser. and it's been heaven, it's been absolute heaven. thejr of ambridge, as they call him. daniel, you've interviewed plenty of soap actors. what's life like for them being in the soap and, indeed, being dumped from a soap? i think it can be difficult
when someone has been there for a long time and they are written out as part of a big storyline. and obviously now, because of what we've mentioned earlier in the show, there are a lot more appointment—to—view type storylines involving stunts and spectacular scenes. but i would say, if you're going to leave a soap, i think it's much better to go out in a big explosion or a big crash thenjust kind of leave in a cab and everyone forgets the episode afterwards. i think if you get a big exit like that, you definitely leave a legacy in the show. and, phil, you're smiling there. but, i mean, how much notice do actors get when, you know, they're going to face some sort of gruesome ending — or, indeed, their characters are, not the actors themselves? do they get time to look for a newjob? it really depends on your schedule, you know? i mean, we used to give our actors 12—month contracts and then let them know three months ahead at the end of that 12—month contract whether it would come, but probably a little bit earlier, because the long—term
storyline planning conference would have had the writing on the wall anyway. sometimes things happen and you just have to take somebody out very, very quickly, you know? i've been in situations like that when... you say, "bite the bullet". sometimes i've had to put the bullets out, you know, so... and then you have to... because the length of time, a0 episodes have to be rewritten, you know, so 20 have to be reshot, that kind of thing. but, you know, generally, you often get them a good thing... crosstalk yeah, sorry. unless they transgress, you know? well, the exact one we had is when ricky tomlinson, who played bobby grant, we had a falling out about the way the storyline was going and hejust said, "that's it, i'm off," and walked off the set there and then, so we had to think, "how do we how do we manage that?" you know, so... how did you? yeah, we called the writers in and rewrote the next script, and the next script said, "where's bobby, sheila?" "you won't believe this — he's gone to gdansk
to support solidarity." brilliant! i love it! it's inspired. charles, you were nodding there. what were you about to say? well, i was slightly going to take issue with daniel, actually, because... watch out, daniel! well, no, because daniel said, you know, better to be blown up or something awful like that, rather than getting in a car. from an actor's point of view, there's no special way of being written out of anything. itjust means they stop being paid. so...whether you're going to be blown up orjust going to the pub and never seen again, the cheques will not be there the following month if you're not recording. infact, i remember when siobhan, my mistress in the archers, tragically died, the week... i mean, she was dying of cancer, it was terrible. and the actress, caroline lennon... the week before, i mean, barely... she barely said a word. she was just breathing.
and they had her there. and then she died. and i had a scene with her dead body. and i remember going in the studio, which i think i wrote in my book, and there, instead of caroline, was a cushion — because you don't have to pay a fee to a cushion. ok, well, and you do it well, definitely. let's just have a quick last thought about the future of soaps. you know, the bbc has reportedly spent £87 million on the new eastenders set and they've got a new executive producer, chris clenshaw, also on board. so they clearly are signalling that eastenders is, you know, on the up. emma, do you think things are looking brighter for the residents of walford? it's difficult to be that optimistic after the i conversation we've been having. but i still think that, | you know, like i said, when they have really good | storylines, when they really trust in their characters, there's nothing better. i but they've just got - to sort of have the courage of their convictions. you know, for instance, danny dyer's character, | when he came in, he and kellie bright, he plays his wife, -
they were supposed to be the married couple, thatl nothing was going to break them and they were fantastic, - and for a few years, - i suppose, that was the case. and now they've split them up because they have - to have an infidelity storyline and an alcoholism storyline i and all this kind of stuff, i and you lose faith in those characters. and when different showrunners come in and out, the characters| seem to morph into people that you don't recognise, _ so i think it's about having i people that are willing to be consistent, that care i about those characters, that think about the audience. and i still think there's - something fantastic there, but there is a lot of competition. you know, we're going to have to accept that we're not - going to see the viewing figures that dan - and angie got again. but that doesn't mean - that they can't have success. yeah. and with autumn coming, which i think is a big time for soaps as they start, you know, sowing the seeds for those christmas storylines, daniel, what can we look forward to this year? what do you know about any big stories coming up or what we should be watching? well, the big one is emmerdale turns 50 in october, and they have announced that they will have a
big storm storyline. so, a deadly storm will hit the village and various characters will be in peril... so some actors are going to be worrying about that! here we go! i think so. i think it's likely that someone might be saying goodbye in that storyline. i'd say eastenders are doing something really interesting soon, which is they're doing a flashback episode which will take viewers back to 1979. and it will be a bit of a glimpse of the mitchell family in the earlier years. and they have cast jaime winstone to play peggy mitchell, which i think is a brilliant casting, because she also played barbara windsor in the babs programme that was on a few years ago. so i think that's a very good example of soaps trying to do something different, trying to have an appointment—to—view story that will hopefully bring in some lapsed viewers. ok, and in ourfinal minutes — seconds, even — i was going to ask a question for you all.
phil alluded to it earlier, perhaps, but i'd start with you, phil. if you were pitching a brand—new soap today — perhaps you even are — what would it be? ijust think it'd need to be something that reflects britain right now. the timing is absolutely perfect for a new soap, because brooky survived because it was time to relook at the form — same with grange hill, same with hollyoaks — and i think now it's time to really go back and look at what's going on. but i think, finally, what i'd say is that everyone should look back to the archers. the archers came about as a collaboration between the bbc, birmingham council and the department of agriculture, you know, and that was bringing together something that would actually teach people more about how food and land was worked and everything. that's the way forward, and i think the bbc would be primed to work with all the other public services, like the nhs and agriculture and education, and that's how you'll fund it... charles, an idea for a soap, or is itjust more archers?
well, thank you, phil, for putting it so clearly. and at my age, i'm quite happy going out there and saying the lines and getting a check at the end of it. fair enough. i love a bit of honesty. daniel, emma, if you were creating a soap now, would you have an idea for one? well, if you want big - characters and outlandish storylines, maybe we should set it in westminster. _ i don't know! but if i were to be making a soap, the one thing - i probably would do is try - and make it shorter episodes. i think, you know, the archers are trailblazing in that way. . we're seeing a sort of trend now towards 20—minute - programmes, 15—minute programmes. _ i think that could be - an interesting way to go. daniel? i think i would like to see something that phil mentioned a few years ago, which is a streamer trying to launch a new soap, and then we could have a global soap that people can watch all over the world. i have a feeling if that were to happen, it might have to be slightly more generic in order to have the broadest possible audience, but i do think it would be really, really good if the streamers
bit the bullet and went with something that was more high—volume. well, that is a brilliant point to end on. thank you so much. we have managed to make it through half an hour without any arguments, divorces or explosions. thank you, all. my guests are phil redmond, soap creator extraordinaire, amongst many other things, digital spy�*s daniel kilkelly, tv critic emma bullimore and charles collingwood, better known as brian in the archers. i will be back at the same time next week. until then, to channel peggy mitchell, get out of my pub! eastenders theme plays hello there. for many, this weekend shaped up to be a tale of two halves. the north of england on saturday was cloudy, grey and wet with a couple of inches of rain falling. but on sunday, just take a look
at leeds, just shy of 13 hours of sunshine here. i suspect there's going to be more rain in the forecast, however, today, with this area of low pressure and the fronts pushing in from the west. now, some of that rain is going to push its way steadily eastwards. so, some heavy rain clearing to showers. the best of the drier weather through monday is likely to be across scotland. so we start off, then, with heavy rain moving out of northern ireland through the irish sea into the north—west of england and parts of wales. but you can see central and southern england is quite showery in nature, so not everywhere will see there'll be some heavier bursts. the best of the drier, sunny weather looks likely potentially to be in scotland. not quite as warm here, though, 1a to 20 degrees the high. we mightjust see 25 degrees ahead of that rain before it arrives in parts of lincolnshire and east anglia. now, as we move into tuesday, this area of low pressure will continue to enhance some showers in the far north—west, and down to the south—west, we've got this little weather front which will bring
some showery outbreaks of rain across south—west england and wales. just how far north that's going to be, well, we'll need to keep an eye on that, but we start to tap into some pretty warm, humid air with that south—westerly flow and temperatures in east anglia and the south—east likely to peak at 27 celsius. that's 80 fahrenheit. it stays warm and humid in the south and east. at same time, close to that low pressure, we'll see more wetter weather, sharper showers developing out to the west. so first thing on wednesday morning, a very humid feel, 18 degrees. and so, despite it being quite cloudy to begin with, it will be largely fine and dry with that south—westerly flow. as the rain eases away, the temperatures are likely to peak at highs of 27 celsius by the middle of wednesday afternoon. moving out of wednesday into thursday, that weather front is going to continue to sink south and east. there'll be no significant rain on it, unfortunately. and so, that does mean that thursday on the whole will be largely fine and dry. potential for some
you're watching bbc news, i'm rich preston. our top stories. singapore is to end its ban on sex between men, but there'll be no moves to legalise same—sex marriage. i believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most singaporeans will now accept. officials in pakistan say the former prime minister imran khan is being investigated under an anti—terrorism law. growing concern over a wave of killings targeting hindus, in india—administered kashmir. and british boxer tyson fury calls for more action on knife crime after his cousin is stabbed to death.
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