Paul Abbott: I do have quite a lot to say. My aim is to stimulate interest in high quality returning drama. It’s the single most magnetic element for channels. I’m not talking about continuing drama. This is about adult drama, the things HBO and Showtime make.
The credit crunch should force us to fix this glaring hole in British TV. I suspect we’re about to come under further attacks from the coalition government. It feels like we’re being shut in a Portakabin on Ritalin, with a dog shagging our leg for four or five years.
Enough bitching, there’s a big task ahead. We’re not producing drama of a sufficiently high standard to deserve repeating viewing. The US culture of commissioning is very different. Obviously, we only see the best of the best imported here.
But we’re addicted to a dangerous level of safety. Everything’s become safe and less expansive; we’re so far away from the outrageous. We haven’t got the balls, the guts to blow the audience’s tits off.
The audience is sitting there, begging for better stuff. [On audience analysis reports] We are the ones who are meant to be qualified to take them to places where they don’t know they want to go. [On suggestions audiences want to influence the outcome of stories] The audience pays the tickets. We shouldn’t be expecting them to fly the plane as well.
Channel 4 has committed to 22 episodes of Shameless for next year, but it’s taken eight years to reach that point. We don’t have a culture of growing long-running returning drama for adult audiences – but that’s what the US wants to buy.
For the US series of Shameless they went straight to 12 episodes – here it was seven, then eight, then ten, and then sixteen per series. We have a bad habit of expecting things to finish. That expectation stops us being creatively fizzy.
I think British drama’s too expensive. I shouldn’t be saying that as a manufacturer of British drama. But in the future we’ll be making dramas for £500,000 an hour. State of Play cost more than a million per ep.
We keep testing things in dribs and drabs, it’s exhausting. People love making pilots but it’s a waste of money. Takes a year to make a pilot, as long as it takes to make a series. It’s a bit like spunking money away.
We haven’t got the scale and guts to commission – six 1-hour episodes are seen as a big commission for a drama but it’s not enough to grow a series with the audience. Sky is committing to several 13 episode drama series, Stuart Murphy is starting to put things right there.
Longer runs of returning series and we could attract back a lot of people we’ve lost. We suddenly went cosy twenty years ago. To change that needs investment. We should test-drive stuff on paper, not with pilots. Indie production companies are exhausted by the piece-meal approach.
Takes an audience five weeks to realise they’ve missed the one transmission of a new pilot. Audiences need time to find affection for a series. I think audiences are desperate for long-running adult drama. On the US version of Shameless, 60% of the writers are first timers. They all contribute to each episode. There’s an incredible lack of vanity, their contract is with the audience.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be making authored pieces, but that’s all we train writers to do. We could have made 20 episodes of Cracker a year if we could’ve kept the actors. The writers’ room system is only used on continuing drama in the UK – why?
So much money is wasted on scattered development. It costs nothing to develop ideas. You pay for scripts but that’s the cheapest part of the process. I think we’re close to being bone idle in the UK. Once a writer makes their name here, they won’t do team shows.
I believe audiences are craving a five-course meal; we give them dribs and drabs. It’s a cupcake culture. We only get short order drama, yet the audience for Shameless built when it went up to 16 episodes a series.