Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour gets full series

Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour has - unsurprisingly - been commissioned for a series of four feature-length episodes. The one-off special broadcast back in January to mark 25 years of Morse on British TV was a big fat hit, drawing eight million viewers all told. A poll on the Radio Times site asking if viewers wanted a series got more than 2000 responses, with only 31 (1.5%) people voting no.

The challenge will be evolving Endeavour from a drama born in the shadow of  Morse into something that succeeds on its own merits. The one-off had the halo effect of residual affection for the TV incarnation of Colin Dexter's creation on its side. A full series of Endeavour needs to find its own reason for existing, above and beyond continuing the legacy created by McBain, Childs, Thaw & co.

Of course, this has already been tried once before. In 2006 ITV broadcast Lewis, a one-off drama featuring Kevin Whately as Morse's former sidekick, promoted at last to chief inspector. The special was a huge hit, drawing more than 11 million views [which shows you how much terrestrial ratings have fractured over the past six years], leading to a series commission for the Oxford detective.

A sixth series of Lewis is due to air soon, bringing the show's total number of eps to 24. A seventh series is on the cards for 2013, but is likely to be last with Whately saying in interviews he's ready to retire the character. As a show Lewis has never won the critical acclaim heaped on Morse, but has always earned good ratings and has sold well around the world, makings its creators lots of money.

I thoroughly enjoy Lewis as a show, especially the dynamic of Whately and Laurence Fox as his sidekick, DS Hathaway. But the series has, arguably, never quite found it own reason to exist beyond the obvious. That is the challenge that faces the makers of Endeavour. Fortunately, the new show has an extra weapon in its arsenal besides Morse's legacy and the dreaming spires of Oxford: history.

Endeavour is set bang in the middle of the 1960s. That offers a rich and turbulent backdrop in which to tell gripping crime narratives. It will create no end of production challenges and drove up the cost of making Endeavour, but the period setting should provide all kinds of fresh opportunities for writers. Student uprisings, the swinging 60s, racial and sexual politics - all good grist for the story mills.

I also have my own, selfish reason for welcoming the news about Endeavour going to series. I'm the author of The Complete Inspector Morse, a book detailing and analysis every Morse narrative across all media - Dexter's original prose stories, the TV incarnations, the radio plays, the 2010 stage play. A new edition [pictured above] came out late last year, and included a preview of Endeavour.

I could well find myself writing a new edition in the summer of 2013 to cover the first series of Endeavour. Strange to think a non-fiction book I started in September 2001 continues to evolve. It got turned down by one published back then because Morse was seen as a dead series. More than a decade later, the book is still going strong [ha!]. Morse may be dead, but he lives on in Endeavour...

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