Those ‘Greatest’ compilation programmes that fill an evening’s viewing on Channel 4 seemingly every weekend are always a bit of diverting, addictive nostalgia, but recently they did one I actually care about.
I got advance warning of The 50 Greatest TV Dramas when a mate of mine was asked to be one of the experts to vote. My first thought was ‘Only 50?’, immediately followed by ‘If The Singing Detective isn’t number one then they all want shooting’.
But that’s the thing with lists like this: they’re nothing without the sense of righteous outrage that inevitably accompanies them.
To its credit the list includes many of my favourite dramas: Band of Brothers (50), State of Play (48), Threads (44), Traffik (30), Brideshead Revisited (29), 24 (27), This Life (17), A Very British Coup (16), Twin Peaks (9), Cracker (7), West Wing (6), Cathy Come Home (5).
But there were also some puzzling ommissions.
While I accept that it was probably compiled too long ago to include recent dramas like Battlestar Galactica and Heroes, how can a list of greatest ever TV dramas not include (off the top of my head) The Signalman, Road, Holding On, Cream in My Coffee, Six Feet Under, NYPD Blue, The Wire, Ultraviolet, The Twilight Zone, Our Day Out, Oz, The Shield and Deadwood?
I’m sure there are others I’ve missed out and that you have your own pet grievances, but come on, The Singing Detective only at number 4?
What it has brought home to me, though, is just how important television drama is to me. Much more so than film (there, I’ve said it).
There’s a tremendous snobbery in filmmaking circles regarding television. There are still plenty of idiots out there who dismiss it as trashy entertainment for the masses that can never reach the elevated heights of the silver screen. Ironically, this mirrors almost exactly the ridiculous snobbery that first greeted cinema when it was struggling to establish itself as an art form and overtaking theatre as a mass medium.
It’s unbelievable, in a post-Potter universe, that such pomposity can still exist. But it does.
Most wannabe filmmakers I meet carry around with them this absurd belief that film represents high art, with TV the embarrassing relative you cross the street to avoid. And if you pit Casualty against Casablanca you’d have a point that only a Jade Goody could argue with.
We could throw the respective highs and lows of both art forms at each other forever, but the reality is that the best TV writing is more adventurous and less formulaic than the best film writing… at this moment in our history.
And, thinking back, it’s TV dramas that have given me my most evocative moments.
I still vividly recall catching Potter’s Cream in My Coffee as a schoolkid home alone one summery Saturday evening: the toggles on the blinds tapping at the windows, the old couple at the beach, the flashbacks to the ballroom. And knowing, even back then, that this was what it was all about; that this was what I wanted to do with my life: to create moments like that that could reach out to millions of people sitting in their homes.
And the rest!
(Oh, I almost forgot… and Flambards too ;-)