BBC content director Charlotte Moore has warned that unless diversity is prioritized in the UK TV industry, the sector will not survive.
Speaking today at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Moore unveiled new programs including an investigation into the impact of race on coronavirus by actor David Harewood and a spin off of World On Fire writer Peter Bowker’s hit series The A Word written by disabled writers. These shows will be among those to spearhead BBC1’s line-up next season.
Moore also highlighted Mangrove, the first film in Steve Macqueen’s series Small Axe, which will air this autumn.
She said globally diversity was now recognized as a key issue for the industry, explaining: “The commitment is there because I think not only creatively is it the best thing to do but business-wise, the whole business will benefit from this because that’s what the audience wants to watch. To be honest, if we don’t do it I literally don’t think the television industry in this country will survive.”
Moore pointed to the BBC’s £100m ($131M) diversity fund and added: “If we do not reflect the nation we are making our programs for then we will have failed and eventually that will mean we won’t be able to meet the challenges of the next few years if we don’t make diversity an absolute priority.”
Her stark words came as BBC drama boss Piers Wenger revealed that although cameras are rolling again on dramas paused due to the coronavirus, such as Death in Paradise, there are gaps in the BBC’s schedule across 2022 and 2023. He also said measures put in place during filming to ensure actors are protected from the virus include kissing through perspex screens.
During the virtual panel session, Moore, Wenger and BBC entertainment controller Kate Phillips spoke about the impact of the pandemic on their line-ups with Phillips confirming that despite it being “probably the hardest show to do in the current circumstances: a live weekly show that relies on body contact”, BBC Studios’ hit Strictly Come Dancing will return this autumn.
Strictly’s celebrity line up is due to be announced later this month, said Phillips, adding: “We’re having to adapt, the set’s having to be slightly altered; we’re not quite sure at this stage how much audience we’ll be able to have in, we have to look at Dave Arch and the fantastic band and how we play to them; how hair and make-up and costume backstage will work.”
Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on the BBC, Moore said: “It’s been a most extraordinary time. We saw some of our biggest figures for some of most loved shows like Masterchef…everyone was at home with more time on their hands.”
She said the pandemic has “definitely changed people’s viewing habits and perceptions of the BBC” and “we were all probably in a long time watching telly as a family.”
“Also shows like The Repair Shop and Sewing Bee, we brought over from BBC2, they had extraordinary figures as well, hitting that mood of the nation coming together for really heart-warming telly. The other thing that really hit home for all of us was actually most of the dramas, whether The Salisbury Poisonings or Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads or The Nest, I May Destroy You or Normal People…I think suddenly there was so much focus and attention on those shows that I think absolutely deserved to hit that mainstream.”
Moore also announced that former soccer player Anton Ferdinand is authoring a story on racism in football, made by Wonder, and Patrick Kielty is making one about Northern Ireland with Dragonfly.
She explained that in those films, and one in which Top Gear presenter Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff talks about bulimia, are about “people trying to bring a different audience to subjects that we think are incredibly timely and important to talk about but also exploring it through their own authentic experience but also trying to ask some difficult questions.”
Wenger and Moore both said that co-productions with international streamers continue to be “incredibly” important to the BBC to help fund expensive shows, with Wenger saying: “It means that for British creatives there’s no limit on what the BBC can offer them…those relationships continue to be key.”
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