Jack Thorne says rising costs threaten UK dramas

Jack Thorne, author of Channel 4’s Help and The Virtues, said he feared for dramas that tell “specific UK” stories as UK broadcasters cater more to a global audience.

Speaking at this year’s Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thorne explained that rising production costs mean the majority of UK series now require investment from outside the UK, meaning series have to serve viewers around the world.

“In terms of theater in particular, all of these companies have come to our country and are doing a lot of shows, which means the cost of shows has kept going up, because the skilled labor – and that’s is a wonderful thing – it’s getting more expensive,” Thorne said.

“So now every show really needs co-production money – you can’t make drama just with UK money, or it’s very, very difficult to make drama just with UK money. , then you’re starting to see ‘worldwide’ being something we all have to worry about.”

Sean Bean in BBC One Time drama BBC/James Stack

Thorne singled out 2021’s three-part Time, written by Jimmy McGovern and starring Sean Bean as an inmate, as a “typically British” series that might not have been made if all the drama had to be ordered with a global audience in mind.

“My concern in this regard is about things like social realism,” he said. “When you do a show like Time… [my worry is] how these shows, which are very British specific – which was [former media minister] John Whittingdale’s phrase, “distinctly British” – how these shows are going to be made.

“So it’s a worrying time for all those sorts of reasons. It will become even more worrying if Channel 4 is dumped and sold […] and worse still if the BBC is cut to pieces, as seems likely.”

Jack Thorne, Armando Iannucci, David Olusoga OBE and Dorothy Byrne attend the 2022 Edinburgh International Television Festival

Dorothy Byrne, David Olusoga OBE, Jack Thorne and Armando Iannucci attend the 2022 Edinburgh International Television Festival

Thorne was speaking at the MacTaggart Legacy panel which saw the BAFTA-winning writer appear alongside writer/director/producer Armando Iannucci, British historian and broadcaster David Olusoga OBE and the former head of news and Current Affairs of Channel 4 Dorothy Byrne, with all four revisiting the MacTaggart lectures they had each delivered at previous editions of the Edinburgh Television Festival.

Following Thorne’s comments, Iannucci urged UK public service broadcasters to remain distinctive, arguing that this is what allows them to strike co-production deals and get programs made.

“The reason these production companies – HBO and Netflix – come here and do co-productions with the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV is that the reputation of the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV is so huge” , did he declare.

“They want to have that label at the end of the show, saying it’s a co-production. But if you say, ‘Channel 4 should be more like Netflix’, you’re actually destroying that brand, you’re destroying the essence of what makes him so valuable internationally. You are ruining his reputation.

Find out more about the coverage of the Edinburgh International Television Festival 2022:

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