Published in 2019, Producing British Television Drama presents a compelling case for a paradigmatic shift in the analysis of television drama production that recentres questions of power, control and sustainability.
Television drama production has become an increasingly lucrative global export business as drama enjoys increased prestige and strategic value. However, this book argues that the growing emphasis on international markets and global players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime neglects the realities of commissioning and making television drama in specific national and regional contexts. Producing British Television Drama also demonstrates the centrality of public service broadcasters in serving audiences and sustaining the commercial independent sector in a digital age.
More than twenty interviews with senior TV executives, independent production companies, trade unions, training providers, talent agents and individual TV workers ground the book’s analysis of drama production at an international, national and local level. The book also engages with the production of a range of contemporary dramas including Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, The Crown, Keeping Faith/Un Bore Mercher and Hinterland/Y Gwyll.
The book attends closely to three elements—the role of place in the production of content; the experiences of those working in the sector; and the interventions from cultural intermediaries in articulating and ascribing value to television drama. With chapters examining the evolution of British TV drama, as well as what might be in store in its future, this book offers invaluable insights into the UK as a major supplier of and market for television drama.
In her review of the book for European Journal of Communication, Professor Maria Michalis (Reader in Communication Policy at Westminster University) writes:
Overall, McElroy and Noonan provide a fascinating, authoritative, extremely accessible and succinct account of British television drama production that is very current (all the issues they discuss are ongoing) and also relevant beyond Britain, given the growing importance of the local/global nexus in the online television era and the location of drama production into the broader television ecology and associated power structures. The book is about the sustainability of domestic production and the actualisation of economic as well as, significantly, non-economic values. It is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the current dynamics of (British) TV drama production: students, academics, industry, policy-makers and anyone who enjoys TV drama.
Producing British Television Drama is published by Palgrave MacMillan. More information is available here.
Producing British Television Drama: Chapter Overviews
This book is a critical response to a moment of profound change in the production and distribution of television drama. Drama content is central to the strategic aspirations of broadcasters, independent production companies and policy makers helping them to deliver on a range of economic, cultural and political goals. Our analysis foregrounds power and sustainability as two significant terms that merit sustained critique and which underpin contemporary television drama production. This chapter outlines the novel methodological approaches adopted when conducting the many years of original empirical research with television drama professionals which underpins this book’s contribution to the field. We offer a rich and in-depth analysis of contemporary television drama production in the UK, merging global and transnational trends with the enduring significance and value of local production.
Keywords: Television drama, production, distribution, public service broadcasting, empirical research, sustainability, value.
Chapter 2: What makes TV drama special?
This chapter identifies the drivers behind television drama’s re-emergence as a highly valued form of media output. It provides critical insight into the prominence of television drama in the strategies of publicly funded broadcasters, commercial broadcasters and policy makers. In doing so, the chapter challenges some of the assumptions underpinning the ‘golden age’ discourse that sees the current period as one of innovation and abundance. Instead, it argues that television scholars must bring a more critical perspective to bear on the investment in television drama made by broadcasters and policy-makers. The chapter advances scholarship on TV fiction by giving greater precision to the ways in which drama matters in economic, public and political terms and critically interrogating questions of value.
Keywords: Branding, golden age, Public Service Broadcasting, policy, Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD), value
Chapter 3: The ecology of TV drama production
This chapter provides an original analysis of the ecology of contemporary British television drama production. It identifies the vital role played by public service broadcasters in maintaining a plural domestic production industry. We isolate three key elements in the production and distribution of drama. Firstly, the commissioning process itself is interrogated as an occupational practice that centralises power in the hands of commissioners who are often distant from local ecologies of production. Secondly, the role of independent production companies (‘indies’) and the increasing move towards national and international co-production deals is understood as a direct response to the mobility of television content and the riskiness of its production. Finally, we examine the challenges presented by the rise of subscription video on demand (SVoD) providers, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney and Apple, to the existing business models, intellectual property rights ownership and broader relationships between PSBs and the UK’s indies. We argue that the production practices of contemporary British television drama reveal meaningful tensions between primarily national models of PSB-funded drama production serving plural audiences and export-driven production models in which the unregulated power of major global firms is being consolidated.
Keywords: BBC Studios, commissioning, co-production, independent production, public service broadcasting, rights, subscription video on demand (SVoD)
Chapter 4: Locating regional production
This chapter argues for the significance of regional television drama production, offering a critical paradigm for understanding the intersection of the local and global in TV production. Television drama’s significance lies partly in how it locates itself in different cultural geographies, economic landscapes and socio-linguistic communities. For both broadcasters and audiences, drama’s cultural value is closely associated with its representational power to visualise distinct locales and the people and stories which make places meaningful and diverse. Focusing on UK public service broadcasting, this chapter demonstrates how the appearance of certain places on-screen is not a matter of happenstance but is rather the product of myriad policy, commercial, regulatory and creative decisions. Place is examined in three contexts: firstly, as a feature of the regulatory and structural organisation of UK production; secondly, in relation to the specific public purposes of the BBC as the UK’s largest public service broadcaster and commissioner of television drama; and thirdly, as a quality marker of creative production, the effects of which are discernible visually and aurally on-screen.
Keywords: Place, policy, crime drama, devolution, production quotas, landscape, language, ‘lift and shift’
Chapter 5: Building a Sustainable Labour Force
This chapter provides an empirically-grounded analysis of the labour processes from which TV drama emerges. Few scholarly accounts of television drama attend to the occupational experiences of those who bring drama to our television screens, especially those generally referred to as ‘the crew’. This chapter advances drama scholarship by analysing its distinct forms of labour and the tensions that emerge when seeking to create an agile, skilled and diverse workforce. It argues for more critical attention to the precarious conditions experienced by production crew resulting from the increasing internationalisation and deregulation of the TV industry. This analysis is grounded in substantive empirical findings, giving voice to the workers and decision-makers involved in the BBC’s Roath Lock drama studios, a major strategic investment in the Welsh sustainable TV drama labour force.
Keywords: Television labour, skills, crew, talent, BBC, studios, Doctor Who
Chapter 6: Cultural Intermediaries and the value of Game of Thrones
This chapter uses cultural intermediation and the bodies that perform this work as an alternative and original point of entry into analysis of television drama production. We argue that cultural intermediaries such as screen agencies and tourist boards, while frequently neglected in TV drama scholarship, play a significant role in actualising economic, political and symbolic value. In order to do so, these intermediaries deploy a range of tools including public subsidies and digital branding strategies as they translate public policy into interventions intended to support and sustain the production sector. This chapter uses the case study of HBO’s Game of Thrones to demonstrate how cultural intermediaries in Northern Ireland are attempting to restore the country’s political and economic visibility in a global landscape.
Keywords: Cultural intermediaries, screen agencies, tourism, policy, Game of Thrones, place branding, public investment
Chapter 7: Power and sustainability in TV Drama Production
This book focuses on the specific experiences and structure of local production and considers its relationship to global markets and domestic players such as PSBs. This leads us to conclude the book with a call for urgent and profound attention to power and sustainability. Power within the TV industry remains consolidated to a few key players and issues relating to the prominence and discoverability of content testify to the ongoing struggles and imbalances that characterise the television production landscape. We also critique the ubiquitous concept of sustainability as one which emphasises economic growth as the only view of progress or innovation. We propose the necessary conditions for creating a truly sustainable local production ecology and we argue for reinvigorating notions of television drama as a public good.
Keywords: sustainability, prominence, discoverability, innovation, diversity, public service broadcasting