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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
The week's TV: Seen it all before?
William Gallagher
William Gallagher on the TV week ahead
By the BBC's William Gallagher

On the one hand, industry bosses at the Edinburgh Television Festival are complaining that there is not enough fresh originality in programmes.

On the other they are all looking not for shows but for series that can keep coming back forever.


We cannot afford to produce long seasons, while US TV cannot afford not to

William Gallagher
They are called returnable series and British television has been particularly poor at creating these, at least compared to US TV where every show is open ended and runs for around seven years and 170-odd episodes.

We are lucky to reach, on average, three years and perhaps 26 episodes in total.

The reason is partly economics in that we cannot afford to produce long seasons while US TV cannot afford not to but there is also a creative issue.

British TV shows tend to be written by one person while US ones are almost invariably team written, with the notable exceptions of Ally McBeal, The West Wing and Babylon 5.

Arguably we get burnt out, certainly we get ideas that seem to have a natural and rather short life.

Over-stretched

We are fighting this and the most obvious result is the possibly over-stretching of Casualty to 40 episodes per year and Holby City to 50.

But even as BBC One does that, ITV1 is cutting back its long runners because they are failing to pull in the numbers any more.

This week's new television falls somewhere between the ideal, for us, of brand new and, for the TV executives, the returnable.

Julia Sawhala
AbFab Julia Sawalha's big break was in Coupling writer Steven Moffat's Press Gang
Absolutely Fabulous (Fridays from 31 August, 2100 BST, BBC One) is the most successful and also the one that comes with the most attention.

Coupling (Monday, 3 September, 2200 BST, BBC Two) on the other hand has been all but slipped under the carpet into the schedules and probably with the intention of letting it grow up into a long runner.

It deserves to be but its first run was mixed.

Coupling writer Steven Moffat is astonishingly adept at hand-wringing situations that are ripe with tension and great lines, but he has also proved to be patchy.

His break-out series Press Gang was pretty flawless, but Joking Apart would veer from brilliance to schoolboy humour from week to week and Chalk, even as it borrowed from Press Gang, somehow never quite clicked.

Marion & Geoff
Ever optimistic Keith (Rob Bryden) is very funny but painfully poignant
Something that immediately felt right was Marion and Geoff, the series of 10 short films about minicab driver Keith trying to get over his wife, Marion, leaving him for Geoff.

Poignant

It was funny, but you would feel stabbed in the chest at its poignancy - and part of the pain and the joy was that we never saw Marion or Geoff, never saw anyone at all but Keith.

So A Small Summer Party (Monday, 3 September, 2100 BST, BBC Two) is simultaneously a safe, guaranteed to be watched return for a hit but it is also very, very brave.

For we are going to see everyone this time, shattering our mental picture of the characters as much as if Frasier ever revealed what that show's never-seen Maris looks like.

Worse, the little-known and terribly low-profile Steve Coogan has been cast as Geoff.

But while it has so many reasons to go wrong, A Small Summer Party is going to have you immediately hugging yourself, rocking back and forth on your seat as you ache for what happens to Keith.

That might possibly sound a bad thing for a comedy, but it is a lot better than the flatline snoring you may end up doing over Down to Earth, Murder Rooms and Rebus which all come back this week and look to keep returning for a few years yet.

See also:

06 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Absolutely Fabulous returns
17 Dec 00 | Wales
Welsh actor wins comedy award
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