‘The worst TV I’ve ever made and everything it taught me’ is one of the session highlights at this month’s Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival. Two of its brave panellists confess all.

Lisa Clark
Company director, Pett Productions

I produced about 300 live shows of The Big Breakfast and was given an invaluable piece of advice which I’ve never forgotten:  when making television the most important thing is to make a decision. It might be the right one or it could be the wrong one, but particularly if the show is live, for god’s sake make a decision. People need to know what they are doing.

I made a lot of decisions over three years on The Big Breakfast and two years on Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. The ratio was about 60:40 in favour of the right way. But I don’t remember the good decisions; I only remember the bad…and the bollockings I subsequently got.

There was the live demonstration from a dog obsessed with playing Mario Kart. He wasn’t and didn’t. Then there was a Russian roulette game with fizzy pop bottles which subsequently didn’t fizz.

The best – or worst – was having to decide in a split second which lady punter Chris Evans needed to sit next to in the audience on Toothbrush to play our game ‘How’s Your Father?’ Her father was supposedly backstage waiting to appear and surprise her with the reply – “I’m fine”, winning her £1000 in the process. In the gallery I identified the wrong woman and tried to stop Chris from sitting in the wrong place, but it was too late.

“How’s Your Father?” Chris asked excitedly. She stared back at him in utter disbelief. Then …“He’s dead”, she faltered. And I knew I was too.

Jonathan Stadlen
Exec producer, Knickerbockerglory

Having a failure is creatively one of the best things that ever happened to me. And it hasn’t happened just once. The risk of failure is a good thing. Firstly it tells me that we – the production company and the channel – are taking a risk. The more of a failure it could be, the more of a risk – but conversely the more of a potential success as well. I believe you can only succeed as much as you are willing to fail.

Failure is a very subjective thing. Some of the failures I have developed I loved. Some I didn’t think were any good did exceptionally well. Viewing figures shouldn’t be the only benchmark of success or failure. Lots of people would watch a show called Royal Bedroom Live – that doesn’t mean it would be a good show (actually, it probably would…)

The first show I ever developed was called Double Entry. It’s aim was to explore what constitutes an erotic narrative from a male and female perspective in ‘a fun film-making competition between a group of men and a group of women’. It basically descended into soft porn. I learnt more from that process than from any of the successful shows I made.

Everyone blames you when you have a failure, but claims the show as theirs when you have a success. I’ve met more people who invented Strictly Come Dancing then I’ve had hot dinners. But failures aren’t bad. It’s not learning something from those failures that ends up being pretty catastrophic for business.

Tim Dams

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