Wednesday 25 May 2011

They have been watching…

Well, it's been a slightly fractious week out there in TV land. The annual mumbles and grumbles about the winners and losers at The British Academy Television Awards (the TV BAFTAs to you and me) reached deafening levels when The One Way Is Essex won the YouTube Audience Award. The "structured reality soap" had been nominated against other TV heavy hitters Sherlock, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Downton Abbey, Miranda and The Killing. The audience reaction as the winner was read out was subdued to say the least and some of the attendees' faces registered what could only be described as contempt. There was the dispiriting sound of chairs scraping and glasses tinkling as the TOWIE 'cast' and crew took the stage.

Of course, Twitter and Facebook exploded with people expressing their disbelief. Indeed, the following day I read several dismissive and openly hostile tweets and statuses about the award. God, I even wrote one myself in which I opined that if TOWIE could win a BAFTA then surely I could. I also had a pop at EastEnders beating Coronation Street to the Continuing Drama BAFTA, but more of that later. It all came to a head when one of two of my Facebook friends had a rather nasty, foul mouthed exchange because one of them suggested that the losing shows might have something to learn from TOWIE. That particular spat ended with someone being 'unfriended', which is surely the modern day version of a slap with a kid glove whilst being invited to partake of pistols at dawn.

Basically, it was all f**king kicking off out there.

Now, I've never watched an episode of The Only Way Is Essex. I've seen clips and I know what vajazzling is. I thought the music video trailer for the second series was pretty cool and looked expensive, but it didn't induce me to watch the show. Why? Well, firstly I'm a Northerner and the Essex accent is like finger nails down a blackboard to me. I'm sure some southerners are now having a similar reaction to Geordie Shore on MTV. And surely we all wish to go hysterically deaf when the cast of Made In Chelsea are on our screens.

The other reason I never watched an episode was because I had 'artistic objections' to the very concept of a structured reality show. For those who are not in the know, this seems to involve the producers casting a bunch of extreme personalities, giving them a makeover and then deciding which cast members should snog. It's like a massive game of Barbies and Kens, only these dolls do actually have genitals not a smooth plastic area.

I know that when Lime Pictures were in pre-production on TOWIE they met with various TV writers. The idea being that the writers would come up with stories that the Barbies could be made to play out. I assume that takes the form of a producer saying to Barbie 1, "Hey, why don't you snog Ken 1 and make Ken 2 really jealous". All the while another producer is whispering in Barbie 2's ear, "Guess what, Barbie 1 just snogged Ken 1. Isn't he supposed to be your boyfriend? Go punch her in the plastic tits". I'm not comfortable with actual humans being manipulated like that. It's all a bit ancient Greek gods for me. Sure, as I writer I have made terrible things happen to my characters but in the words of the great Brian Connolly "It's only a puppet".

Although, I'd be lying if I said it hadn't occasionally been an expression of what I thought a certain actor actually deserved to have happen to him/her. Let's leave that, shall we?

So, I'll admit that when TOWIE's award was announced I let out a howl of derision. I then cursed the viewing public for being so bloody stupid. And then after seeing all the similar reactions clogging up the social networks, I began to feel a tad uncomfortable. Because a lot of the contempt was aimed at the viewers who voted. Now, we could have a big discussion about demographics and the fact that if it had been the Werthers Original Audience Award, the result would most likely have been different (hello, Downton Abbey!). But let's not.

Let's talk about the fact that some of us were so damn quick to look down our noses at an audience who loved and enjoyed a show so much that they made effort to vote for it. The same thing happened at the National TV Awards this year when Waterloo Road won best drama when it was up against Sherlock and Doctor Who. On that occasion I read elaborate theories about Russell T Davies fans voting for Waterloo Road in order to punish Steven Moffat for "ruining Doctor Who", because no-one could have voted for Waterloo Road because they actually liked it. This week I saw some people bemoaning the fact that the audience don't understand how much work goes into writing and producing TV, if they did then they wouldn't be so critical and cruel.

Do you know what I say to all that? A big FUCK YOU. How dare you turn your nose at the Great British Public and what they like to watch? How dare you be so high-handed and contemptuous? These people pay your bloody wages if you're a professional writer, actor or producer. If you are not hitting the mark with them then that is YOUR problem not theirs. I'm not suggesting that we should pull all scripted drama and replace it with Barbie Telly. However, as writers we should be asking ourselves why people love those shows. Why are they so entertained? Why do they keep coming back for more? Is it the characters, the setting, the dialogue? And can we do it bigger and better? Can we give our audience something so great that they forget all about vajazzling?

Bottom line, get down off your high horses.

I also want to issue a second Fuck You to everyone who sneers at the production teams and writers who work on the more popular shows. The fact that attendees were openly expressing disbelief and contempt whilst the TOWIE producers were accepting their awards was unforgivable. They'd worked hard and created a hit show. In fact, I don't think that it anyone was affronted that TOWIE won, they were jealous because they hadn't. I know I was. By the way, anyone who was even at the ceremony on Sunday, I was watching and slagging you off. Because I was jealous that another year had passed without me being there. Let's face it, that's why we all watch award ceremonies; to criticise the dresses and make bitchy comments about the winners. It's bloody good fun, but let's try and keep it to the ceremony and not let it spill over.

Oh, which brings me back to the Eastenders vs Coronation Street discussion. I'm genuinely not a fan of EastEnders and I do like Coronation Street better. But I'm not a religious viewer, I catch a couple of episodes a week. And yet I felt strongly enough to engage in a polite but distinctly robust discussion with a former colleague of mine that now works at 'Enders. And when you work on a show, you REALLY care about it. I now realise that I may well have been motivated a teeny tiny bit by spite when I was making the case for why Corrie should have got the award. I stand by what I said, but maybe I shouldn't have said it. Maybe I should apologise.

Sorry, Kath.

So, here comes the redemption for all of us (can you tell I'm a writer?). The reason we all get pulled into these discussions and express ourselves in less than ladylike terms when talking about telly is because we care, passionately. And that's a great thing. If you don't find yourself shouting at the telly and firing off an ill-advised tweet about a show at least once a week, then you shouldn't even be working in telly or aspiring to do so. But sometimes it is nice to be nice, especially these days when everybody's every thought is archived on some big server in Silicon Valley or Romford or wherever. Keep the passion, ditch the nastiness.

That's what I'm going to try to do. I sincerely doubt I will succeed.