Why spend good money on a children’s show?

Trevor Eve, whom I vaguely remember as the quirky cop Shoestring, has complained that the BBC spends too much money on Doctor Who. What he probably means, in fact, is that they spend too much promoting DW, the cause of quite a bit of this kind of backlash, not all of it unreasonable.

It isn’t his personal dislike of DW that bothers me – that’s his own affair – but I do feel saddened by the assumption that spending good money on a children’s show is a waste of resources. (I’m not getting into the argument about DW not just being for children here, although I think it’s quite valid). Rather, why should children’s TV not be just as good as, if not better than, adult drama? Children watch a great deal of TV and they aren’t generally aware of the high culture/popular culture divide. They take it all equally seriously. Whether we like it or not, there’s no going back to the good old days when the kids’ programmes lasted for an hour at teatime. It’s a major shaper of their cultural and emotional landscape, the source of their values in many cases. And it’s under unrelenting attack from the pressures of consumerism – already it’s difficult to get any new creative work for a young audience made unless it’s tied into major merchandising deals.

Eve is already being disingenuous by implying that the BBC’s decision to pour resources into shows like Top Gear and DW is somehow perverse. In fact, it’s sound business sense. Doesn’t he realise that if the only source of funds for well-intentioned quality drama is the licence fee it is extremely vulnerable to political interference? And he’s free to dislike DW as much as he likes, but I for one feel it’s a cause of celebration that the best show on children’s telly these days is a direct DW spinoff, featuring a women who is well past the first flush of youth but kicks serious ass, and is ably assisted by a multi-racial group of young helpers. Money spent on that is well-spent, IMHO.


8 thoughts on “Why spend good money on a children’s show?

  1. do feel saddened by the assumption that spending good money on a children’s show is a waste of resources.
    *nods* Children’s drama is something which has suffered from a lot of budget cuts recently – which is why so many of the channels rely so heavily on cartoons and US imports, most of which are pretty dreadful. My kids tend to watch CBBC most days, and there are, fortunately a number of decent programmes on there, not least of which is the excellent Horrible Histories, which is absolutely brilliant. (If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend it – it’s one of those programmes that transcends the generation gap.)
    But drama made specifically for children is rare these days (SJA and M.I High are the only example I can come up with right now). Remember those Sunday tea-time classic serials? They’re long gone. And I remember Children of the Stones and A Traveller in Time and The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris… and others whose names temporarily escape me. They were all well made and lovingly produced – but I suppose they wouldn’t get made today. And Doctor Who isn’t taking money away from them – things like that were culled long before 2005.
    Children deserve good stories and good writing, too – and when they’re given it they are perfectly capable of appreciating it.
    I for one feel it’s a cause of celebration that the best show on children’s telly these days is a direct DW spinoff, featuring a women who is well past the first flush of youth but kicks serious ass, and is ably assisted by a multi-racial group of young helpers. Money spent on that is well-spent, IMHO.

  2. I really don’t know the ins and outs of the BBC, but I would imagine that the license fee only goes so far. To produce a wide variety of programing they would need to have some money makers in the bunch.
    Sure they could just settle for producing Pride and Prejudice, but why not Pride and Prejudice, Doctor Who and Top Gear, and then up the production value on Pride and Prejudice?

  3. Has-been middle-aged actor rants in Daily Telegraph. Sigh.
    My respect for the Torygraph really is going down and down; they seem increasingly determined to turn into the Daily Mail. With added Posh Totty.
    And totally agree with everything both you and say about children’s TV. I would pay my license fee for CBeebies alone (well, and maybe BBC4 and Radio 4) and that will doubtless be joined by CBeebies when the Small Persons are a little older. Just having a channel which one knows will provide half-decent semi-educational programming with very few cartoons and NO ADVERTS is invaluable – but the more high-quality, well-thought-out children’s programmes the better.
    And I would be interested for someone to draw up and show to Trevor Eve a pound-for-pound cost-benefit analysis of Top Gear and DW. I suspect they ultimately pay for themselves and then some.

  4. I just still can’t get over the fact they consider it a children’s show in England. And Primeval is considered a family show! Neither of those shows would air before 8 pm here, and Primeval is more of a 9 pm show.
    Sorry, I know, not what your post is about. The whole “children’s show” thing just never fails to befuddle me.

  5. Trevor Eve was the highest-paid actor on TV, apparently pulling in £1 million a series for Waking the Dead. A show which is about to transmit what will probably be its last series. Connection? Hmm….

  6. And according to these viewing figures for Waking the Dead versus these for Who (warning: quick and dirty comparison using figures from two different sites)..
    DW since the reboot has consistently pulled in higher viewing figures than anything I can find for Series 7 or 8 of Waking the Dead. Only the least-watched episodes of S2 and S5 dipped down to Dead‘s 6.5 million for the second ep of Series 8, which was itself up on the opening episode.
    And that’s just the UK figures – I wonder which does better abroad, in terms of long-term DVD sales, etc?
    Was DT getting more than £1 million a series by the end of his tenure? There were rumours that the Beeb were prepared to offer him more than that to stay, but I’ve not been able to find any authoritative source saying what he was paid.
    As you say, A, I suspect sour grapes, though I apologise for calling Eve a has-been – I’d forgotten he starred in Waking the Dead, which I confess I’ve never watched.
    ETA: and having looked properly at what Eve says, I realise that he does know Who pulls in the money and that’s almost his objection. As for:
    “The programme is great, but it was created for children in 1963. One doesn’t need to say more.” – actually, yes, one does. Do you have any kind of intelligent critique of the modern show to offer?

  7. I read somewhere that DT has getting £600,000 a season; can’t find the source now I’m afraid. Surely overseas sales of the whole DW franchise (including Torchwood), not to mention all the merchandise would add up to more than WtD? WtD is a great show, btw, and Trevor Eve is great in it, but I guess a £1 million pay cheque wasn’t going to survive the drive to cut stars’ pay after the whole Brand/Ross debacle.
    Say what you like about Bruce Forsyth, but he took the pay cut on the chin (hem hem). His attitude seemed to be, “Enjoy it while it lasts, but, after all, we’re only entertainers.”

  8. Yep, if these people want to have any TV work in a few years’ time they should be supporting the DW-led revival in shows that families can watch together. The trend these days is more towards everyone watching something different on their laptop in their own room. Even Stephen Fry, whom I adore, feel for the “DW is only a kids’ show” argument not so long ago.
    I think there’s a benign nostalgia rampant today that confuses “popular culture” with rubbish. Yes, we may fondly remember hours spent in front of “Boss Cat” or “Wacky Races”, which were hardly high culture, and argue that it didn’t do us any harm. But, both in terms of technical brilliance and a relative freedom from commercial interference (I admit I didn’t watch them in the USA), even those humble ‘toons had much healthier values than the shallow, hyperactive trash kids would end up watching all day if money for children’s TV was cut any further.

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