Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The BBC is doing itself no favours

I have blogged in the past about how the BBC can sometimes be its own worst enemy and I have seen some further evidence of this recently.

Last year I enjoyed watching all six episodes of a new comedy
show "Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle". It was a 30 minute show that showcased the stand-up comedy of the critically acclaimed Stewart Lee interspersed with sketches to illustrate the topics he was talking about on stage.

I loved the stand-up portions of it although some of the sketch bits were not as good. Lee's stand-up style sometimes verges on performing art. He uses a lot of repetition in his themes, riffing on this to build up to a climax within certain parts of his sets. He also often talks in abstract about issues and situations in a way you do not often see elsewhere. There is also a feeling that you never quite know where he is going on a subject and can suddenly turn on the audience subverting their expectations and he sometimes even goes in amongst them shouting at them. I have seen him live a couple of times and I felt his performance style translated well to the small screen.

The critics loved the show and although the audience size was not huge they were respectable for the sort of alternative show it was. Of course it is not everyone's cup of tea but from what I can tell, those that liked it, really liked it.

Anyway, it looks like the BBC has cancelled the show and there will be no second series. There is a petition you can sign here which has already garnered a couple of thousand signatures which is trying to get the BBC to reverse their decision. It seems unlikely though, they rarely do once a decision like this has been taken.

Now of course I am slightly biased here because I really liked the show and am a big fan of Lee but I think this is an example of how the BBC has got it all wrong.

Firstly, I should just say kudos to them for having commissioned the show in the first place. However they are shooting themselves in the foot by taking action like this. The show was very well received by the critics and as I said has a solid (although not massive) audience. Because the BBC does not have commercial considerations, they are able to take risks like this and cater for a minority audience without needing to fret over audience sizes as much as channels that take advertising.

And this is exactly my point. I have lost count of the number of times the BBC has cancelled shows that seem to cater to a minority taste because the audiences are not large enough. This should not be the way they make their decisions.

I am not saying that they should never cancel anything but they should be much more discerning regarding the criteria they define as "success" for a show. It seems to me that far too often they just look at the numbers and let those decide.

The real danger for the BBC is that if they carry on like this then they undermine the reason for their continued existence as a public funded broadcaster. After all, if they are not willing to stick their neck out and cater for minority tastes in this way and only want to keep things that are first-time sure-fire hits with a wide audience then it becomes very difficult to distinguish them from their commercial rivals. And that is the point where the argument about whether they should continue to receive public subsidy (as I hope they will as I have made clear before) gets harder and harder to make.

Ratings cannot be the predominant criteria used to decide whether a show gets recommissioned for the BBC.

They are doing themselves no favours by behaving in this way.

Hattip to Wikipedia for the picture of Stewart used above.

No comments: