My suspicion of the values and calibre of the people who run television has continued. At a seminar at the University of Reading in 1998 I gave a talk called ‘The Media Mandarins; Last Bastion of the Amateur?’ I subtitled it ‘Incandescence and Detumescence; How Media Mandarins Stroke Up or Freeze the Sacred Flame’. I claimed that I wished to ponder ‘the role of commissioning editors, script editors, executive producers, production executives, development executives and others of that ilk.’
‘In the process that starts with a writer’s script and ends on the screen,’ I asked, ‘do these people act as facilitators or are they too often the spanner that snarls up the box of tricks?
‘Amid increasing professionalism amongst those involved in the making of television drama, the writers, directors, actors, editors and all the rest of them, does there remain one area where the amateur, still all too often, reigns supreme? Is that weak link to be found where many people would least expect it, among those who in theory should be lending inspiration, leadership and efficiency, the people sometimes referred to in the press as the media mandarins?
‘Not every script that is written can end up on the screen,’ I continued, ‘there has to be some selection. But have we writers, who ultimately hold control because it is we who create the scripts from which not only drama but every single radio or television programme is derived, ensured that the editorial and managerial input is facilitatory, geared to empower what is excellent and appropriate, inspirational with concepts and guidelines which are clear and exciting and above all highly professional, or have we conspired in something that falls short of this?
‘I have my own views and my own set of extraordinary experiences. I’m looking forward to testing these against those of other writers. To what degree do the people ‘at the helm’ provide a professional service?
‘How often do the members of the media mandarins remember to send their CVs - those rapid tools for achieving rapprochement - with correspondence?
‘How long, on average, do they keep one waiting for a reply to correspondence? How often, for example, is the wait more than three months or longer?
‘What proportion of scripts and treatments and other correspondence gets lost by them?
‘How good are they at communicating their ideas efficiently and elegantly?
‘How often do they advise as to new trends they feel are important and when they do this are they able to communicate a sense of excitement?
‘Are they able to avoid mistakes in grammar and spelling?
‘How good is their general knowledge of the society and culture in which we live? How literate are they?
‘To what degree are they able to understand the works of writers they are involved with? Writers they are not involved with?
‘Do they often seem reticent or unwilling to provide details of their own credentials or creative output?
‘Does their criticism, whether constructive or negative, contain sufficient reference to other published works of theirs, or other sources of theory, for a writer to be able to see it in context?
‘Are they able to be courteous, supportive, and to avoid arrogance?
‘Are they able to work well under stress? Do you sometimes get the feeling that they are losing their heads when all around are keeping theirs?
‘Do they sometimes present as axiomatic theses which many people would probably feel to be actually personal and subjective?
‘When they find it necessary to request a postponement, are they able to do this sufficiently early to avoid one’s already having started out to see them?
‘To what degree do their statements and published opinions on television as a whole or drama in particular stand up to critical analysis?
‘Are any suggestions they make for alterations to scripts are intelligent and appropriate?
‘Are they able to avoid being distracted from the job in hand by their personal whims, love life, or private scenarios?’
If the answers to these questions suggest a group of people many of whom are confused and, while aspiring to professionalism, remain the least professional element in the whole of television, then there remains one further question: How can we as writers best help them out of chaos and towards providing a service which is appropriate?
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