Streamers such as Netflix, Prime Video and Paramount+ are “perplexed” by government threats to the UK’s Public Service Broadcasters (PSB), according to Sherwood scribe James Graham.
Graham, one of Britain’s foremost TV and theater writers, flagged the example of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who broke through the theater system to create the BBC’s Fleabag before being snapped up by Amazon in a ‘Golden Handcuffs’ deal.
He was reflecting on the BBC’s funding struggles due to the government’s freezing of the license fee for two years, along with threats to Channel 4’s position as a public broadcaster, although this was recently reversed.
“We’ve got the best of both worlds [in the UK],” said Graham, in conversation with Banijay UK Chair Patrick Holland at today’s Freeview Outside the Box 2023 event. “Streamers benefit from PSB development. The likes of Amazon would be utterly perplexed by the threat to that pipeline.”
Graham said his hit BBC One drama Sherwood set during the 1980s miners’ strikes in Nottinghamshire would never have been commissioned by a streamer. The show was one of the BBC’s most-watched new dramas of 2022 and a second season is in the offing.
Graham, who also wrote Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War, argued that the nation only shouts about the strength of PSBs during a crisis.
“In advance of a crisis we need to be saying how brilliant it is that 10M people watch the finale of [BBC One drama] Line of Duty,” he added. “In good times, when it’s not frightening, we need to find the language and make the case to both the government and the public. There should be a sense of pride in broadcasters that disproportionately elevate us culturally around the world.”
Holland, who has been at the the Banijay UK helm for nearly a year, said the UK’s broadcasting model is the “envy of the world.”
Against common misconception, the former BBC Two Controller argued landing a commission with a PSB is just as difficult as a streamer.
“Getting a commission from the BBC or Channel 4 is not a free pass,” he said. “It’s very very hard when you have a limited amount of money and have to be innovative and distinctive, with high demands from the audience.”
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