This survey amongst independent TV producers about their relationships with broadcasters was published yesterday in Broadcast:
To be fair, the headline is one of those controversial ones and it looks as if most broadcasters (except for the BBC) are generally reasonable to deal with. There are, however, many comments about meetings recklessly postponed or cancelled, a damaging lack of clear editorial direction, a rash of arrogance, and an expectation that independents fund the (expensive) development process themselves with little commitment that the broadcaster will buy the programme under discussion.
It’s oh so tempting to react with a homily about the importance of good manners in business as well as in personal life. Here are some actual quotes as reported by my clients:
Producer to writer: ‘We’d commission you if you brought us HBO as a co-producer.’ (Writer thinks: ‘If I had HBO, mate, I wouldn’t be working with you.’)
Producer to writer: ‘Oh, you’re here for notes on your script? Shit! Can you wait outside for 10 minutes while I read it?’
Producer to writer: ‘But where’s the naked woman in your script?’
And worse. Scripts changed from half an hour to an hour’s length, then back, a series then a mini-series; imbecilic changes imposed on the storyline; and so on. So what’s going on here?
Some of the answer must be that power goes to some people’s heads. But I think this is a symptom of another problem: no one really knows what’s going to work. There’s loads of audience research, but work has to be launched into an unpredictable context. We can only support what we think is good enough that people will want it, and then hope for an auspicious climate for it.
But it takes guts to back something just because it’s good and you think enough other people will also like it. If you’ve got a boss breathing down your neck wanting guarantees about audience figures, it must be bad for your mental health. Heaven knows, being an agent is sometimes like that experiment where a bird presses a lever to get food. Sometimes food is supplied, sometimes not. All they can do is keep pressing the lever that sometimes works.
We’re probably all barking mad here and haven’t quite noticed.