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Simplicity is key for stand out drama

Eleventh Hour Films CEO Jill Green on how a television drama can stand out in an ever more competitive broadcasting market.

Who’d want to be a TV right now…it’s a joke, that a TV box is becoming quite redundant in many viewers lives as we consume via computers, ipads mobiles etc.

Terrestrials fight for audience attention with the ever-growing digital platforms.

Viewers have information overload and mind clutter sets in, and attention spans are getting ever shorter.

So where does that leave new dramas trying to attract a decent size audience (to sustain an advertising or subscription based revenue model)?

Simplicity is key. Of idea – and preferably, the title too.

In my advertising days I had some pitch meetings with the great David Abbott. He taught me to encapsulate an idea in one sentence (and then of course successfully shoot it in 30 seconds). He told me that all the best, most distinctive ideas should take this one sentence form - if not, they were out.

That doesn’t mean a drama can’t have depth to it. In the crowded crime drama arena, there are stand-out programmes that have clear branding and marketing, but also complexity of characters and storylines each week. Line Of Duty, No Offence and Happy Valley are three examples. They are firmly focused in what they offer and audiences have remained staunchly loyal. At Eleventh Hour Films, we aim to do the same with our recently delivered Safe House (ITV), a psychological thriller penned by Ed Whitmore and Tracey Malone.

Another area I’m often asked about is dark drama, and why so much of it is being made.

Of course, there are differing degrees of this - and I’ve never favoured the shallow horror for the sake of it stuff (which the Americans seem to have a bigger appetite for). I’ve a soft spot for psychological thrillers - those that say something about our mind-set and the world at large but are also gripping, tense and scary.

Now we can all binge view there’s also an “intensity” behind the viewing experience. Does this favour dark drama - especially if you’re fully immersed with your iPad close up, and a set of headphones?

Weather helps. As a nation of grim skies rather than Californian blue ones (oh, how that depresses me!) there is nothing like a dark room and mood to suit a gripping dark drama. So, I recently enjoyed The Replacement and was truly gripped by The Night Of.  Peaky Blinders was a big favourite - with dark, moody music to match.

Many UK writers may also be more naturally attracted to this kind of material…we rarely get pitched a fun, escapist, lighter idea that’s a drama not a comedy. There is a nervousness too from broadcasters. The Durrells proved that you could have lightness and edge, but it’s rare to find those properties and good writers wanting to handle them.

Crystal ball gazing, I’m attracted to more “crossover” dramas – fusing both documentary and drama spheres…I loved the ambition of Narcos and was truly addicted to Making A Murderer and The Jinx – both new forms of “drama wrapping”, despite their documentary origins.

I hope drama remains an ideas driven business and doesn’t sell out to money and stars. I have faith that audiences are intelligent enough to still seek out the best, and stick with it.



Posted 04 May 2017 by Jill Green
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