In response to Kevin Spacey.

Kevin Spacey

As you will no doubt have seen but now, Kevin Spacey had a pop at the BBC and ‘I’d Do Anything’ in particular at the start of this week. If you haven’t seen a newspaper yet, then take a look here for coverage of his original comments

Given this, it’s not surprising that his comments have started a debate within the press, and its well worth reading some of the responses by people like Michael Billington to see what they have to say – I’ll be posting a fuller round-up a little later, so do check back if you are interested.

But this post is my opportunity to wade into the debate, so read on if you want to hear what I have to say on the matter. As far as I’m concerned, Kevin Spacey was both right and wrong!

Why Kevin was right

The BBC could do more to support theatre. It could do a better job of highlighting the fantastic theatre that this country already has, as well as finding ways to engage a new audience with a medium that they might not have otherwise considered. Here are a few ideas from me. They’re not fully thought through, and they might not appeal to everyone, but here goes anyway:

1. TV adaptations of new plays
I know it seems somewhat counter-intuitive to show content designed for live action on a TV screen, but why not look to the theatre for inspiration when developing new drama? Writers could then remain true to their theatrical roots as well as having an opportunity to access a mass-market audience

2. Theatre documentaries
Programmes like ‘Any Dream will do‘ have shown that people can get excited about theatre. Now it’s time to build on that momentum and delve deeper into that world. Rather than just programmes to discover new talent, show how people actually live their live. I’d start with some serious programming around the National Theatre – a phenomenal institution that could provide a fascinating insight into the world of non-commercial theatre.

3. Better coverage of new theatre releases
Why limit coverage of new plays to things like ‘Newsnight Revue’? The BBC should create a magazine and review show for theatre, in the same way that it already has for film. It wouldn’t get the same audiences, but why not put it on BBC4? That way, it could introduce people to some of the shows going on that aren’t picked up by National Press, which could be hugely helpful for regional and fringe theatre. It might help reduce the West End’s reliance on jukebox musicals and West End stars to get audiences excited.
So, ultimately I agree with the main plank of Kevin Spacey’s argument – the BBC should do more for theatre, and not limit itself to series like I’d Do Anything. However, that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything he said.

Why Kevin was wrong

I think his comments were slightly disingenuous in part. As I have already acknowledged, the BBC’s theatre coverage does merit criticism. However, ‘I’d Do Anything’ didn’t create the problem, so there’s no point trying to blame it. For me, Kevin is conflating 2 issues – the first is his problem with ‘I’d Do Anything’ and the second is his criticism of BBC theatre coverage. It’s perfectly possible for the BBC to show I’d Do Anything AND increase theatre coverage in other areas. But I guess his criticism of the BBC would not have got quite as much airtime had it not had a massively popular BBC show in subject of newspaper headlines!

I personally don’t have an issue with the BBC making ‘I’d Do Anything’ so long as it is still providing top quality entertainment for prime-time audiences each weekend and helping some very talented people make a successful career in theatre. Remember – this programme does give talented people an opportunity to make a career in theatre. It’s not only the winners who succeed out of this, so it’s madness to paint the BBC as all wrong in this matter.

The bigger shame will come when the BBC loses the show to ITV, because Andrew Lloyd Webber is no longer interested in abiding by the constraints that will be forced on him. Wouldn’t it be more effective to keep the show on the BBC, letting him do whatever show he likes, and look for ways to improve the show?The BBC should use the programme to promote theatre more widely. Run a series of additional programmes on the back of it, which can be promoted for free to a mass audience in primetime. Use it as a way of bringing audiences to the type of programming that won’t be made by commercial broadcasters. The BBC can fulfil its public service remit better with ‘I’d Do Anything’ and its regular 10m audiences.
I understand that some people dislike the fact that ALW is making money from the show, but I see it as a necessary evil. I think it’s time to accept it and use the opportunity that exists to improve the BBC’s coverage of theatre.

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