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Those shows

March 8, 2009

The BBC has a scheme called the BBC writersroom, which aims to nurture new and emerging writing talent in film, TV, radio and theatre. They run a Writers Academy, graduates from which are offered opportunities to write for current BBC television and radio shows. It is not currently something I’d put myself forward for, mainly because I’m not confident about the technical requirements for scriptwriting, and at the moment want to concentrate on prose.

I do follow the writersroom blog however, and was struck by an entry on Wednesday. The author was giving a talk on writer training, and mentioned why they believed that sometimes new writers failed when writing for the shows the author worked on. Essentially, they lacked passion for the show, and sometimes they didn’t even watch them.

Another writer interrupted to make the following statement:

Well we all know that writers on ‘those shows’ only write them to pay their mortgages.

There are two interesting attitudes tied up in that statement. Firstly, what is wrong with doing paid work in order to pay your mortgage? I have a day job. It isn’t my career, it is my job. I do it to pay my rent, pay my bills, buy food. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about my job, that I don’t feel frustrated when things go wrong, or don’t feel proud when I’ve done a good job.

But the second attitude is more disturbing – the snobbery towards certain types of writing. “Those shows” in the quote above are what the BBC term “Continuing Dramas”. These can be onrunning, albeit periodic drama series, to soap operas. In the UK, Eastenders, Casualty and Larkrise to Candleford would all qualify as Continuing Dramas. For the US audience, this catch all term would include everything from Heroes and ER, to The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless.

Yes, we all know that the quality of such dramas can vary. A high concept drama will always be more intellectually challenging than a soap opera. But that doesn’t make the writing “worse” or “unworthy”. The disparaging attitude to those who write such shows, that they only do so purely for the money, implies that such writing is easy, which belittles the work being done.

Yes, they aren’t writing the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But there is still skill involved, still the same problems that all writers encounter. And if you don’t show enough enthusiasm to find out about the show, to understand why the audience loves it, then you’re not going do as good a job as you can. That is disrespectful to yourself as a writer, and to the company which is paying you to write.

And isn’t that the dream? To be paid to do what we’re all doing for nothing at the moment?

Or is it only writing if you suffer in obscure poverty for it? I don’t believe that. Many fine writers of critical acclaim, who got their breaks on Continuing Dramas, don’t believe that. It seems the only ones who believe that are the “undiscovered genii” who would doubtless jump at the chance to be paid to work on “those shows”.

  1. March 8, 2009 3:05 am

    Interesting post, though I’m different in that I see work in order to make ends meet, not as a source of enjoyment. Though that is to say I’m not being paid to write.

    But I really agree with your sentiments regarding people’s dismissive attitude “popular dramas.” I see it a lot in academia etc. where anything mainstream or popular is seen as lesser in value, which is just wrong and elitist.

  2. March 8, 2009 6:42 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more Paul. This sort of snobbery is rampent in so many things in life that is doesn’t belong – especially places where love and support is needed the most – the Arts!

    It is drawn from a spirit of poverty and a place of lack… the same spirit that decrees that you cannot be spiritual (or religious) and be rich, or have morals or ethics and be rich… or famous…. says who???

    thanks for bringing this up

  3. March 8, 2009 9:06 am

    It makes one wonder – does trash beget trash? Or whether elitist ideals continually force the bar down rather than up?

    It makes me wonder though, what it would be like to be paid to write … and if writing something you really disliked, but needed it for the pay cheque, would it really be any different to working in a crummy job in a supermarket or in a soul leeching upper management position.

    My fear it that emerging artist (of all genres) are forced into positions that creatively and artistically they don’t want to be in – but the competition is so fierce and the position so rare, that any type of work is better than no work.

    I know I fall into this mode of thinking when I’m writing my non-fiction articles for other sites and publications. What I really want to be doing is writing fiction – but I delude myself into creating a name for myself (in the case of the BBC writers – a resume of work?) that perhaps wont serve me in the long run if what I want to write is fiction, but looks like the silver bullet in the short term.

    Sounds like an interesting blog to be following Paul!

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