Thursday, November 17, 2011

The BAFTA TV awards situation

I'm feeling strangely respectable at the moment, because I've written an article for Broadcast magazine. It's in this week's print edition, live on their website now, and reproduced below with permission. And yes, I really do love America's Next Top Model. And Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model. You should see me during makeover week. Anyway, comments are open on this, for debate, links, etc, but I will be wielding the Meat Hammer of Deletion for any trolling, derailing, or devil's advocate time wasting. Here's the article:

New award for reality shows is an insult to writers, says James Moran.

Bafta must recognise wordsmiths

17 November, 2011

Each year, Bafta has two awards ceremonies to celebrate the best of UK TV. The televised event features glamorous actors in posh outfits; the Craft awards, however, aren’t screened as they feature the people who viewers supposedly aren’t interested in. Like writers. You know, those unimportant people who make up stories in their heads from nothing.

The televised ceremony heaps praise on the nominated shows, and many of the winners talk about the brilliant scripts that got them excited about the project. But you won’t see the writers at the awards, unless the producers allow them to come up on stage, or if the writer is a producer. There’s the Dennis Potter award, for ‘significant writing contribution to television’, but nothing for the creators of shows that might sweep the televised awards. Even Dennis Potter himself, if he were still alive, would be relegated to the Craft section.

TV is driven by writers. You can’t make a soap, a drama, a comedy or narrate a documentary without a script, so it’s baffling to be sidelined like this. Maybe they think we’re not photogenic enough. That’s clearly nonsense. Lots of writers have got that smouldering, broody artist thing going for them. Because that’s what’s important, right? Looking good on the red carpet? Don’t worry, we’ll scrub up and dress nice for you, Bafta.

Worse still, in the Craft awards, there is only one writing category. There should be at least two, to separate drama and comedy. You wouldn’t make Downton Abbey and Peep Show compete for ‘Best TV Show’, because they’re completely different experiences, so why lump all writers into one box?

In the main show, there are six acting awards in total. Drama and comedy shows are rightly split into single drama, drama series, mini-series, continuing drama, comedy and situation comedy.

Directing, while still hidden in the Craft awards, gets three categories – factual, fiction and multi-camera. Sound and editing get two each. But we just get ‘writer’, one award to cover the entire spectrum. What sort of message does that send?

Last time this issue came up, John Willis, then chair of Bafta’s TV committee, said there were “a finite number of categories for each ceremony”. If that’s true, why have they just added a new category for reality shows?

I have nothing against the genre – I love America’s Next Top Model – but you can’t claim there’s no room for writers and then squeeze in an extra category. The “finite” number of categories should be allocated more evenly.

It all affects how writers are perceived, and Bafta seems to be saying that writers aren’t important. I’m sure it doesn’t really think that – Bafta does lots of fantastic events with screenwriters, for example – but it really does need to address this issue.

Sure, in the great scheme of things, it’s hardly genocide. But writers get devalued and ignored enough, without getting left out of the one event where they should be celebrated. British TV features some of the finest writing in the world. It’s about time Bafta recognised that, in public.

➤ James Moran’s credits include Spooks, Torchwood, Doctor Who and Primeval and the horror film Severance. He blogs advice for writers at


Catherine B said...

Thank you for this, and very well said! You speak to an issue that plagues script writers worldwide.

I am not well qualified to speak to the issues that British writers face, but I know that writers in Hollywood are under-valued by production houses and are demonised when they have to strike for equitable pay. In music, the singer-songwriter is held in higher regard, but those who write and don't perform are very much relegated to the background.

I agree strongly with what you say about the message such relegation sends to society as a whole. It begs many questions and illuminates the troubling issue of what actually lasts and why we tend to take less visible, more permanent creativity for granted and treat it as our due.

As a singer, I receive the accolade for performing a piece well. But without the songwriter, there is nothing to bring to life. I couldn't do what I do without those who write, so I'm always interested in performing new or little-known works and introducing audiences and students to composers they've never before encountered.

I hope that your words get through to enough people to change the Bafta priorities enough to honour the writers as they deserve. I'll do whatever I can to help disseminate this article.

Tony Foster said...

Good piece that highlights what all scriptwriters know (that they are perceived as the least important person in the process) but that ordinary people might not suspect. I doubt what you've said will change much, but at the very least it should make those ordinary folk feel a bit sorrier for us. Cheers.

Cameron Yarde said...

Good article.

I've been saying for years that writers don't get the credit they deserve. For years the writers were not included in the Best Sitcom/Drama awards and it was just the producer that picked them up.

Fawlty Towers won Best Sitcom twice but John Cleese & Connie Booth didn't get a BAFTA for writing it, only the producer/director did. John Howard Davies won for the first series and Bob Spiers & Douglas Argent won for the second series. When John Sullivan's sitcoms Only Fools & Horses and Just Good Friends won Best Sitcom for 1985 & 1986 respectively, he didn't get to collect an award, only Ray Butt did. John had to wait until the 1988 Christmas special of Only Fools and Horses to have his name on the award alongside the producer Tony Dow. Then there's Yes Minister which won Best Sitcom three times first with Sydney Lotterby producing then twice again with Peter Whitmore taking over producing duties.

Now what do Only Fools & Horses, Yes Minister and Fawlty Towers have in common? They all won with different producers. But as good as those producers are, they couldn't have come up with those scripts.

For too long TV has asked writers to come up with shows and then they don't get rewarded on the biggest TV night of the year in the UK.

BAFTA should introduce categories for Best Writer in a sitcom, drama & sketch/variety show. It's long overdue and lightyears behind what America does with writers at The Emmys.

Finally, regarding writers not being given their awards on the main show. It's slightly doing down winners of Craft Awards that don't get their moment in the spotlight.

BAFTA should return to having both ceremonies broadcast on TV. If the Craft Awards can't be shown on BBC1, they'd be a perfect fit for BBC2 or BBC4.

Jane said...

I agree with your sentiments. BAFTA have got it completely wrong. As you state so clearly where would the telly programmes be without their scripts and no they don't just poof into existence.

I'm someone who will seek out programmes if certain writers have written it because I admire their craft and hope to learn something about it via osmosis.

Sort it out BAFTA, writers deserve a proper set of awards to reflect the diverse nature of the art.

Magz said...

Very well said. The thin excuse of having 'limited' categories is just that - a thin excuse. Perhaps if the quality writers we have in this country were to disappear overnight, the powers that be would soon realise just how vital a cog they are. I am by no means belittling everyone else who are also involved, however, it is time for writers to be acknowledged and given a fair proportion of the credit due and recognise those who create the stories and characters that make the British entertainment industry one of the finest.

*rant over*

Snide said...

Hey, at least you get a category to be nominated in. Up here in the land of BAFTA Scotland, there is no category that accepts tv comedy writing. The writing category only accepts entries from films or 60+ minute dramas.

So you can write six of the finest sitcom episodes the world has ever seen, yet BAFTA Scotland does not even consider this a feat worthy of consideration. Smashing eh?

BTW, the same goes for the directing category :)

Robin Parker said...

Can any of you let me know if you'd be happy for your comments to feature in Broadcast, where we hope to continue the debate. Pls email


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more.Without writers, there would be no TV worth a damn, no movies, no comedy and, extrapolating that forward, no BAFTA.

You can't have awards for something that wouldn't exist without the person at the beginning of the process, the one with the lightbulb moments of ideas. Without them, we have nothing.

Sort it out, BAFTA. Put it right. It's not for the fame. It's not for the glory. It's to recognise that the job you do as a writer is equally as important as everyone elses. Because it's the right thing to do.