• The List
  • 30 October 2006

Slight returns

Have British TV execs run out of ideas? Judging by the number of revamped, resurrected classics being hurled onto our screens, originality and ambition are now considered dirty words. The List’s TV editor is unimpressed.

There was a moment in the recent one-off revival of Cracker that spoke volumes about the character of Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald. Back in the UK from Oz for his daughter’s wedding, he just couldn’t keep his chubby, gamble-stained hands away from a murder case on his old patch. When confronted by his wife with the sad fact that he’d rather be out playing with the cops and robbers than with his own grandchild, Fitz nods a sad confession. This tragic and slightly farcical scenario is one that seems to be replicated in the rooms where decisions are made by TV execs these days. Scared to try and make a go of it with the new and untested, they’d be far happier hitching a ride with the familiar and reliable comfort zones of the past.

But those comfort zones are getting mightily crowded these days as the shows which have cropped up so often in those nostalgic I Love 100 Greatest Top Ten trips have been used not simply as an excuse to kick back on the glories of the past but as some obscene spying trips to see what gruesome acts of small screen necrophilia can be inflicted upon us. The list is, of course, virtually endless, but picking on a sample, Randall and Hopkirk only served the purpose of convincing us that Vic’n’Bob were not the greatest actors of their generation, and the new Robin Hood is almost unwatchable given the eponymous hero’s smelly beard and the similar stench of Keith Allen’s hammy sheriff.

Meanwhile, the marginally anticipated Bullseye hasn’t even been deemed worthy of a Sunday teatime ITV slot. Is Dave Spikey really that bad? Joe Pasquale certainly is, yet ITV have the nerve to stick The Price is Right in front of our faces all week long. The time may be right to mention that Doctor Who is exempt from all such criticism (and the maudlin pearl that was the recent Royle Family one-off).

When ITV looks back at yet another dull year for drama, it will at least have a couple of gems to report on. Not its festering Moors Murders showcase See No Evil nor its Shane Richie vehicle What We Did On Our Holiday and certainly not the likes of The Best Man or Bon Voyage or The Outsiders (which you probably didn’t even see never mind remember). No, the jewels in ITV’s drama crown this year are Cracker and Prime Suspect. Yet neither effort was a patch on their bygone productions; Cracker in particular was a déjà vu affair which replaced Bobby Carlyle’s stricken Hillsborough avenger with Anthony Flanagan’s traumatised British squaddie.

Have the TV execs simply given up the ghost and admitted that the all-singing, all-dancing new British drama and comedy shows that are being churned out by the networks are not good enough, unless they have a script by the lad Dickens or one of the Brontë lasses, which is simply just another form of gravedigging? We used to say that the British were up against too much strong opposition from America, but even their most acclaimed shows (Lost, The Sopranos, 24) are all in ratings freefall. Can we really not come up with anything that even matches the ER-lite Grey’s Anatomy, or pale X-Files wannabes such as Bones or Invasion? Where is the ambition to produce a contemporary drama which spans to more than the six episodes that Jimmy McGovern was handed for The Street?

Probably because that will cost too much money, cash which has been frittered away on big budget monstrosities such as Rome or on bidding wars for the likes of 24. Plundering our heritage is presumably a cost-effective idea. How much convincing can it take for a tight-fisted financier to release some cash for Robbie Coltrane to be dragged away from his vintage engines or Helen Mirren to be unleashed from her Elizabethan garbs? If the truth is being told, then Rowan Atkinson will be slapping Tony Robinson about a bit again in Blackadder soon and the legal brats of This Life will be catching up for a gin-soaked reunion. Dale Winton up for more Supermarket Sweep anyone? Oh yes.

None of which is as appalling as the notion of an old favourite with new people in full destruction mode. So, Paul O’Grady will be hoping his health holds up when he fronts Opportunity Knocks while Vernon Kay risks wrath and damnation for hosting Family Fortunes. Lord knows what Albert Finney will do to Leo McKern’s memory when he dons the wig for Rumpole of the Bailey. Too many repeats on telly? There clearly aren’t enough to stop these small screen crimes from happening.

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