Drama is the backbone of British television - more viewers watch drama then any other genre on TV. So, why is television such a successful medium for telling stories.
Where do these stories come from, who writes them and what do they say about us?
In the first of this two-part South Bank Show Special, Melvyn Bragg explores the world of popular television drama from TV’s most successful soaps, (EastEnders and Coronation Street) and serials like Footballers’ Wives and Bad Girls, to ‘cop’ and ‘doc’ shows such as The Bill and Casualty, including maverick detective-led dramas like Prime Suspect.
With programmes constantly competing for the top slot in the ratings war, characters and storylines are the key to their success. Tracy Barlow's pregnancy, the current big story in Coronation Street, is compared to Dirty Den's return to Albert Square, which attracted an audience of 16 million. Across any week, the collective viewing figures for these two programmes is over 100 million and this incessant demand for soap is putting huge pressure on writers to consistently come up with new ideas. Bragg talks to the writers behind the storylines to find out how ideas eventually make their way onto the screen, and discovers how not all soaps live to tell the tale as he witnesses the death of Brookside in Liverpool.
After the soaps, it is the police and medical dramas - the ‘cop’ and ‘doc’ shows – that we switch on the most. Bragg investigates their enduring appeal and asks members of the real emergency services what they think about the way they are depicted on television.
The influence of soaps and cop and doc shows on returning serials such as Bad Girls and Footballers’ Wives is traced through writers like Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwick, who began writing for Coronation Street. Bragg also travels to Manchester to the set of drama serial Cutting It, written and created by Debbie Horsfield, to find the secret behind a hit show.
Leading critics and writers such as Germaine Greer, Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbott discuss the role of popular drama in society and why it often gets a hammering from the critics, and the BBC’s Mal Young and ITV’s Nick Elliottt discuss the power of TV as a medium for story-telling.
Produced and Directed by Leo Burley
Edited and Presented by Melvyn Bragg