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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK


British drama 'too dark to sell'

Home and Away's sun, sea and surf formula is a winner

Australian shows are being held up as shining examples of how UK producers can move away from "dark and gritty" programmes.

Home and Away and Heartbreak High - both of which have huge teenage and young family audiences across Europe - were singled out for praise in the government study.

Their mixture of sun and glamour is reckoned to be a winner compared with homegrown drama which is "too dark, too slow, too gritty or too socio-political".

The report, called Building a Global Audience, was commissioned by the Department of Culture. In its wake Culture Secretary Chris Smith has announced a new inquiry to identify ways the UK can boost its television exports.

UK a major player

The UK is the second-largest exporter of shows behind the US, accounting for 9% of the world market in TV programming.

But in 1997 there was a cash deficit of 272m as more was imported than sold abroad.

That figure was partly attributed to the number of foreign programmes and shows bought overseas for satellite and cable channels.

Abroad British TV is respected for its quality, with wildlife and science programmes heading the list of those snapped up.

Quality reputation

Other hits that have travelled successfully include Cracker, Teletubbies, and Mr Bean.

Innovative formats like Ready Steady Cook and Top Of The Pops have also been sold overseas.

Mr Smith wants to see more done to exploit that quality reputation to boost the economy, create jobs and lift the quality of TV produced.

"Our principal ambition must be to do better," he said. "We are still lagging way behind the US both in value and volume of sales."

Down-at-heel portrayal

One French broadcaster said British dramas were "perverse", and the report said they are seen as "too dark, too slow, too gritty or too socio-political".

Another theme identified by the report after comments from overseas broadcasters were that the dramas portrayed "down-market lifestyles and a negative image of Britain".

The report said: "The overseas viewer is shown a relatively poor, down-at-heel place which does not inspire interest."

Although the dramas may mirror real life, the study added: "We have to make our way in the world: The Full Monty turned the tables on a bleak environment.''

Worldwide success

A move away from the traditional six or eight episode series is seen as a way of making UK TV more exportable.

BBC Worldwide, which accounts for 50% of the total UK exports, welcomed the research.

Chief Executive Rupert Gavin said the BBC had a positive balance of trade in programme exports worth 22m in 1997/8.

But he added: "The international marketplace is increasingly competitive and we have had to find innovative ways of meeting those challenges."

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