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The Media Mandarins

Last Bastion of the Amateur?

Seeking the Truth about Commissioning Editors,

Script Editors, Executive Producers, Production Executives,

Development Executives and others of that ilk.

From: Jeremy Sandford

The University of Reading is running a three day seminar in April called ‘On the Boundary: Turning Points in British TV Drama’. I’ve been asked to speak. I’ve chosen the title ‘The Media Mandarins, Last Bastion of the Amateur?’

I’ll be most grateful for information which supports or undermines the thesis that, amid increasing professionalism amongst all those involved in the making of television drama, the writers, directors, actors, editors and all the rest of them, there remains one area where the amateur, still all too often, reigns supreme. That weak link, which weakens the strength of everything else, is to be found where many people would least expect it - among those who in theory should be lending inspiration, leadership and quiet efficiency for the whole operation - the commissioning editors, script editors, executive producers, production executives, development executives, and people of that ilk.

In the process that starts with a writer’s script and ends on the screen, do these people act as facilitators, or are they rather too often the spanner that has a most deleterious effect on the whole bundle of tricks?

Not every script that is written can end up on the screen, 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’d like to test these against those of other writers. To what degree do the people ‘at the helm’ really provide a professional service? If the answer is ‘yes’, do we express our approval appropriately and enough? If the answer is ‘no’, what could we do to help them do it better?

Here are some of the questions I’ve been pondering;

If the answers to these questions suggest a group of people many of whom are confused and, while aspiring to professionalism, remain highly unprofessional, then there remains one further question: How can we as writers best help them out of chaos and towards providing a service which is truly appropriate?


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