Tag Archives: Outcasts

Licence Fleece?

A cursory browse through the many comments on my little Outcasts article has revealed one repeated mantra – what are we paying our licence fee for? Good question methinks, especially as I am currently paying, not only our own licence fee but one for our son (student) and very soon one for our daughter, soon to launch into the student world (hopefully ahead of the other fees débâcle). That means that for the privilege of the four of us watching TV we are paying £436.50 per year. not only that, if you  have the full Sky HD multi room blah blah blah at £70ish per month – you could be looking at a pretty neat £1,200 a yearish for  TV.

The difference between the BBC and Sky is, that of course we all have a choice, we could dump Sky and go to Freesat, or Virgin, or go out for a walk, but if we don’t want to watch the BBC, if we just want to keep a telly on the wall so we can watch DVDs, Apple TV and Youtube, we still have to pay the BBC for the privilege of owning the set, because it is assumed that TV equals BBC. In fact, our experience is that, even if you don’t have a TV on your wall, or if you’re dead and have been certified as such the BBC licence fee enforcers will still pursue you with vigour and accusation, refusing to believe that there are some out there who eschew the square eye screen, or no longer have any use for it in a coffin or an urn. Technically, if you can prove you only watch non BBC content through a computer you should not have to pay a licence fee, but so bound up in our lives is the presence of the BBC that it is virtually impossible to avoid its use altogether. I wouldn’t be surprised if standing watching it in a shop window would qualify.

Now, that is not to say that I am in total opposition to the licence fee, after all I did work for the BBC (and I was told that not paying your licence fee was a sackable offence). The BBC then did  put out a tremendous amount of content and that was in the days of BBC Enterprises (a misnomer if ever there was one) before BBC Worldwide and BBC web content arrived. There was no doubt in my mind then that the licence fee enabled the BBC to provide content that could not be provided by its competitors ITV and later Channel 4, not least its radio content. In fact one of the ongoing debates I had on the Sony Radio Awards Committee, was that there should not be a Drama Award for radio, because only the BBC could afford to make drama, and therefore only the BBC could win it, and this skewed the results. My reply to that was Dylan Thomas (Under Milk Wood) and Lee Hall (from radio Sony Award to Billy Elliott), plus commercial stations could make drama, they just didn’t want to because they were driven by the ratings and the relationship between cost and audience.

Two debates seem to have arisen from this discussion of whether or not we get value for money from our licence fee

1 Is that relationship between cost and audience more commercially skewed than it should be, denying fledging programming the chance to survive and smaller audiences who pay their licence fee opportunities to watch TV not provided elsewhere?

2 Is the model of the licence fee anachronistic and does a new model of finance need to be found?

If you think I am going to answer these questions -forget it! It is a nightmare of complexity, if the BBC’s content is to be financed by public subscription it will struggle to provide anything but commercial content, or very niche content. If government is to finance it, issues of independence and integrity occur. If this country is to maintain its relationship with quality TV and particularly quality radio and news, a forced subscription of some kind seems to be the only answer.

Considering that last night we watched a Tina Fey interview by Google from Mashable on the iPad – it does seem that neither licence fee nor screen were particularly necessary.  At the same time I am appalled by the ratings driven, reality game show schlock that is turned out by all channels and whilst the BBC is guilty, it does still have its charter to inform and entertain, which it does still do, on occasion very well, and as for the websites, well call a spade a spade the Beeb done good.

However the outrage over Outcasts demonstrates that there is a disenfranchised audience out there, not dissimilar to the one equally outraged over Channel 4’s dumping of The Daily Show and there’s the rub. My experience of the response to the dumping of the The Daily Show for its weekly Global Edition is equally frustrating. Channel 4 may have mentioned that the show’s return would only be in the form of the weekly Global Edition, but, if they did, they did so in a whisper, so by the time most of the audience woke up the moment had already passed, Channel 4’s response to the audience has been equally frustrating and patronising, licence fee or no licence fee – never forget the execs know best and the audience – well obviously the audience is a bit dim and, sadly, judging by the response to some of these shows, that might be true. In the meantime, as a privileged young couple tie the knot in Westminster Abbey, the BBC has a flung a huge amount of licence fee at the biggest reality show of them all, lets hope they get some of it back. As for me I’m not into royal weddings, I’m feeling like a bit of an outcast!


Rudi (Langley Kirkwood)

Set in 2040, Outcasts (just finished on BBC 1) was a show that posited, or deposited, a remnant of humankind on a planet called Carpathia. This remnant was to pioneer a new civilisation after an apocalypse on a dystopic earth. The title may have referred to these pioneers, isolated from earth to forge a new world, or perhaps to the clones known as the ACs made outcast after the first settlement on Carpathia. Episodes were long (90 minutes) yes there was a lot of talking, yes it took a while to get know what was going on and who was who, but do we have to have an explanation of everything up front in order for a show to get an audience?. Like the first US pioneers the outcasts were a combination of settlers, military, religious and commercial who struggle to survive in a hostile wilderness. There is a governor, or president, who brokers peace with the indigenous peoples or the outcast ACs and there is a military wing, hawkish and troublesome to its leaders. All this combined to leave the audience needing to persevere a bit with narrative, character and concept but I was more than willing to give it a go, but the show has been cancelled and to add insult to injury there was a monumental cliff hanger at the end of the season. Thus Outcasts joins the ranks of Jericho, Firefly and Invasion for leaving its audience hanging, although Jericho made a brief come back for the fans and Firefly headed for the big screen.Ashley Walters, Danny Mays and Amy Manson The purpose of the cliff hanger is to invite the audience to watch the next season, but now, all that wasted talent, all that wasted time and all those hours I spent on the sofa expecting to be entertained are gone to naught with my licence fee. Only recently I was bewailing the fact that there was nothing to watch on TV. Sky Atlantic has attracted a little attention from me, but the Boardwalk is not the tremendous break into telly for Martin Scorcese that Twin Peaks was for David Lynch, Treme is not The Wire, so only Mad Men will keep my subscription. I agree with some critics of Outcasts that it was a bit of shock to lose Jamie Bamber in the first episode, yes there were shades of Battlestar Galactica (not just Bamber), sometimes, just sometimes there were moments when it didn’t seem to gel. However, I read the first scripts of Only Fools and Horses for coverage in the Radio Times and I didn’t think that would take off, and the first series did not herald the success it would later be (she states defensively) but the BBC stuck with it and the rest is history – no such loyalty now. It also took up the apparently failed series Men Behaving Badly – no such risk taking now. GroupI have some beef with the casting of Hermione Norris, I think the producers went for a known face because they didn’t have confidence in the scripts but with Ashley Walters, Eric Mabius and Liam Cunningham plus talented newcomers – why not risk a new woman in the role? No doubt Kudos owes Norris for Spooks, but she dominates perhaps not in a good way. Her presence overshadowed the series, not enough to put me off, and others may differ, she is a convincing authoritative woman and I cannot fault her performance. In addition, given time, characters can take a back seat whilst others come to the fore or are introduced …given time.

It’s been a bad year for me and telly so far, The Daily Show has been pulled, reality and fashion dominates the schedules, Stargate Universe is winding down, where the hell is Dexter? Mad Men has gone to Sky and now the BBC’s best effort at a serious sci fi (no offence Dr Who) has fallen to cowardice. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this is that there is no come back to the powers that be, nowadays everything from the price of petrol, the job I do, the tax I pay to the things I teach in the classroom, are proscribed by someone else and when a TV series I like, gets unceremoniously dumped by nameless accountants, that sense of powerlessness is accentuated, melodramatic I know put it down to a long winter and a bad news week.

There may be a longer blog on audience dependence, not a passive audience as such, inclined to absorb and imitate, but an audience dependent on commissioning editors for their entertainment, manipulated for the benefit of the mass audience, a mass audience that leaves the moderately intelligent drama uneconomic and unsuccessful. Over the years something similar happened to publishing, publishers in search of the huge success have paid massive advances and the subsequent distribution and marketing costs, to sell the likes of Dan Brown and good for him, but where are the Paul Scotts and Daphne Du Mauriers of modern books, and where are the Alan Platers and Troy Kennedy Martins  (look ’em up) of modern television? At the very least if TV series are so risky must we have the cliff hanger? Why not make a season a complete piece in itself.  Mad Dogs the recent high concept four parter for Sky started and finished in one season, four consummate actors, playing out a dark comedy in the sun, a beginning, a middle and an end – what’s wrong with that?

Cast pix: Top: Langley Kirkwood. Centre right: Ashley Walters, Danny Mays and Amy Manson. Bottom: Ensemble