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Feature: TV Drama

Drama Queen

Julie Gardner, and who is that…

As part of our 200th issue celebrations, we present an exclusive interview with BBC Wales’ Julie Gardner on the current state of British TV drama

As we hit our 200th issue milestone, it seems appropriate to step back and take a look at the current state of drama on TV. Happily, TV drama’s undergoing something of a revival at present, thanks largely to a renewed commitment to the format from the BBC. There’s the Doctor Who revival, the success of which has led to a slew of family drama commissions, Life on Mars, carrying the torch for innovative and quirky programming… even the hoary old costume drama has had a bit of a makeover thanks to the likes of Casanova.

The common thread linking these three programmes is the involvement of BBC Wales’s Head of Drama, Julie Gardner. In taking on the Doctor Who commission, she has had a large part to play in the current vogue for TV drama – ‘British’ being the key word, as one of the distinctive features of the current wave of drama commissions is the move towards production in the regions… “There’s a determination to do more out-of-London production,” says Gardner. “There is an absolute determination to represent as many areas of the UK as possible, which is absolutely right for a public service broadcaster. From where I sit, I think the most important thing is the stories that writers want to tell, and the confidence that I hope they now feel in coming to me with ideas that sound quite mad, or quite bold. Some of those stories are set in Cardiff, like Torchwood; at the same time, they can come to me with ideas like Casanova, that filmed out of Manchester and filmed in Venice and Dubrovnik. I think it’s confidence, really; it just opens things up and gives people the flexibility to work wherever they want to, with the people they want to.”

Certainly, Gardner doesn’t shy away from bold commissions; one recent success was Kudos Productions’ high-concept cop show Life on Mars, in which a Manchester policeman is involved in a car accident and wakes up in 1973. “It’s a really good show, I’m really proud of it,” Gardner enthuses. “At the time I was at the BBC, it had been on offer to Channel 4, and Channel 4 had passed on it – then Jane Featherstone at Kudos brought it to me and I read it the same day she sent it in, and absolutely loved it. It was just one of those great stories where the following day, the drama commissioner Jane Tranter read it, and loved it – and wanted it, and there was a slot available. It was really, really fast – though it had been in development for about seven years and had a really complicated development period, with lots of broadcasters involved.

“It was a really fun read for me,” she continues, “because Jane Featherstone didn’t tell me anything about the project – so I read the first 10 pages thinking, ‘Oh wow, this is like Prime Suspect, the girlfriend’s gone missing and it’s his fault…’ and then I got to the car crash moment completely cold turkey! I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s waking up in the ’70s, no wonder they brought this to me…’ What I loved about it was its reality – that it plays on different levels. I wouldn’t have wanted to make something about a Time-travelling cop, necessarily, but I really wanted to make something that, as its structure, had a strong police story of the week set in the 70s – but that was also the ultimate fish out of water story; a present day man with all those sensibilities in the 1970s.”

by Stephen Graves

Read more from Julie Gardner, including her thoughts on Doctor Who in
TV Zone #200

Photo © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone #200
April 2006
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