Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why so few TV dramas set in newspapers?

Having enjoyed the first series of Life on Mars via the magic of DVD, the John Sim season of televisual entertainment has been extended by now watching State of Play. This six-parter by Paul Abbott was first broadbast on BBC 1 in 2003, but sadly passed me by at the time. Still, I've heard several students raving about it on my MA Screenwriting course, so decided to give the series a whirl. Bloody hell, it's good, isn't it? Not just gripping, but funny, intelligent and really makes you care about the characters. I've not convinced by John Sim's facial hair [he said, the pot calling the kettle black], but that's the only thing that jays in this TV drama masterpiece.

However, it raises an obvious question: why are so few TV dramas based in the world of newspapers? Cops and docs are the default setting for more TV drama, or variations thereupon. Some sad sod recently counted all the different medical dramas on British television in a week - 14 of them. From the cops side of the coin you also get all the legal dramas, such as New Street Law. You even get cross-polination: nostalgic cop show Heartbeat begat nostalgic medical show The Royal; Casualty and Holby City are getting their own law enforcement spin-off.

It's probably my background in daily newspaper journalism, but I've always felt there was a good TV drama to be had from the world of scoops and hacks. Lou Grant did this on US TV in the late 70s and early 80s, but there's surprisingly few other examples I can recall. The Standard was a short-lived series set in a Scottish newspaper, broadcast around the same time. Other than that, I'm struggling to think of any other obvious examples.

TV execs want settings and characters that can generate dozens, even hundreds of storylines full of conflict and drama. That's exactly what journalists are looking for, it's the nature of their job. Then there's the back-stabbing, tooth-and-claw competition for a story between hacks; the frustration of being deemed of secondary importance to TV and radio journalists; the rising challenge of online journalism; the long hours, stress and dubious personalities of those who work in papers. Sounds like strong material to me, but maybe I'm biased.

Anyway, can anybody recall other examples of TV dramas set in the newspaper world?


Optimistic_Reader said...

I can only think of Press Gang ;-)

I missed State of Play the first time round as well and got the DVD for Christmas. I had to watch the whole thing over one weekend as it was so gripping. Proof that Paul Abbott is up there with Jimmy McGovern as the TV-writing God.

Clemmo said...

Hold the Back Page, starring David Warner. Technically, if you want to split hairs, Sex and the City.

There are many, many examples in Japan. One of my favourites is Tabloid (1998). There's also Message (2003). Mary Tyler-Moore continues to exert very strong influences on Japanese TV, hence a proliferation of sassy lady reporters, although TV journalism is regarded as sexier -- as in the case of News Woman, Female Announcers and News Guy.

Piers said...

Lytton's Diary - Peter Bowles starred as a gossip columnist.

OK, so maybe a gossip column is skating the hairy edge, but it is kinda set in a newspaper.