22 December, 2007

Broadcast's Hot 100 of 2007


Whether it's award-winning drama or hit comedy, the script is the key to success. We round up a dozen writers responsible for the UK's finest television.

Tony Jordan

It's been a hugely successful year for this 50-year-old writer and co-creator of Kudos drama Life on Mars. In addition to hits such as Hustle and Holby City spin-off Holby Blue, he's also set up his own indie, Red Planet Pictures. It has hit the ground running, notching up a first-look deal with Sony Pictures TV and two eagerly awaited ITV1 dramas for the new year: Echo Beach - an OC-style soap set in Cornwall - and Moving Wallpaper, its behind-the-scenes counterpart - both made in association with Life on Mars producer Kudos. According to Kudos drama chief Jane Featherstone, Jordan is a genius: "We have worked together for years and rarely have I worked with an individual so relentlessly full of so many brilliant, unique and special ideas with the talent to back them up."

"Hustle was the big breakthrough," says Jordan, who says it was one of the first big, glossy British dramas influenced by US shows such as Lost and 24. "I was born for this era of high-concept, bold ideas," he declares.

Expelled from school at the age of 14, Jordan spent his early years working in factories, fairgrounds and markets rather than writing, but it doesn't seem to have done him any harm. Although he was 32 before an unsolicited script attracted the BBC's attention, he quickly learnt his craft on EastEnders and hasn't looked back. Also on Jordan's slate is a 90-minute version of the Nativity for BBC1 and a movie script for Fox based on Hustle. And he's found time to write an episode of EastEnders - a half-hour monologue by Dot Cotton. "It's a first in soaps - I like stretching the box a little bit."

Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah

If 2007 was busy for Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham, two-thirds of the creative team behind Life on Mars, 2008 is set to be even busier. The duo's feted take on the 1970s cop show may have come to an end, but there's spin-off Ashes to Ashes - featuring Philip Glenister's gritty copper Gene Hunt, who has swapped his Ford Cortina for an Audi Quattro but is facing the end of the line - set for March on BBC1. Viewers also have the first product of Pharoah and Graham's Bath-based indie Monastic to look forward to in Bonekickers. Made in collaboration with Damien Timmer and Michele Buck's indie, Mammoth, the archaeology drama is described by Pharoah as Indiana Jones meets Time Team. Pharoah, who writes ITV hit Wild at Heart, and Graham both live in a village outside Bath and commute to the spa town to Monastic. "Running our own company is exciting and exhausting, but it does give us more say in the production process," says Pharoah.

Peter Morgan
Morgan's popularity shows no signs of letting up as he pursues his Blair trilogy to its conclusion in The Special Relationship, his follow-up to The Deal and The Queen. Says The Queen executive producer Andy Harries, who has worked with Morgan for 15 years: " He's the outstanding writer of his generation. What Peter does so brilliantly is to take major political themes in contemporary history and find the drama with his instinct for stories and his fantastic ability to simplify so the themes are clear." Oscar nominated for The Queen, this year Morgan won a Bafta for Longford and a film Bafta for The Last King of Scotland. His next feature with Harries is an adaptation of David Peace's Damned Utd, about football manager Brian Clough. But his favourite medium remains TV: "You can be far more challenging, articulate and intelligent writing for television."

Barbara Machin

Emmy-award winning Waking the Dead creator Machin is a quality writer with the Midas touch.
She scooped a Bafta this year for her work on Casualty's Christmas two-parter Killing Me Softly, described by John Yorke, controller of drama production studios at the BBC, as "a brilliant piece of popular television at its best".

Machin, formerly one of the Casualty writing team, returned to the hospital soap as a consultant to inject fresh vigour into the production team. "She elevated the work of the team to standards they haven't reached for years," says Yorke. Now Machin has an innovative BBC1 crime two-parter, Blood Rush, under way, which will tell the story from each character's point of view. "Every point of view tells a different story," says Machin. "In fact, there's always more than one perspective to a crime. Each time you think you understand the truth, immediately afterwards we will take you somewhere new."

Jimmy McGovern
Cracker creator McGovern enjoyed a welcome return to form this year with Granada's Emmy award-winning BBC1 hit The Street, which combines hard-hitting storylines with impressive ratings. The series, on which McGovern is lead writer, also acts as a showcase for new writing talent, with McGovern collaborating with less experienced writers.

Born in Liverpool in 1949, McGovern is from a large working-class Catholic family and has spent much of his career battling to get working-class voices on TV. In his early years that was expressed through his writing on Brookside, as well as series such as The Lakes and Hillsborough. More recently McGovern has turned to movies, with his film Mary Queen of Scots in production starring Scarlett Johansson. According to BBC fiction controller Jane Tranter, McGovern's signature dramas make him one of Britain's foremost writing talents: "Jimmy's ability to engage an audience with thought-provoking and challenging dramas sets him apart."

Stephen Poliakoff

Poliakoff's distinctive style of drama is, for some at least, the perfect antidote to the fashion for fast-paced, frothy narrative. This autumn's double bill, Joe's Palace and Capturing Mary, c ertainly split the critics. but more than any other current British writer Poliakoff has carved out a degree of creative freedom which shows in the measured, lingering shots that characterise his work. His most recent intricately interwoven tales are expected to be strong contenders at next year's awards and continued his key themes of unearthed secrets and investigating archives.

Now he's working on more scripts through Talkback to build on the success of work such as the multiple award-winning The Lost Prince and Shooting the Past. When asked by BBC2 to cut the latter by 35 minutes, he refused point blank. Says Talkback Thames chief Lorraine Heggessey: "Stephen is one of the leading writer/directors of our time. His films are beautiful, compelling and unique and always attract the best talent in the business both in front of and behind the camera."

Andrew Davies

Davies' furious work rate never seems to slacken. He is to follow BBC4's Fanny Hill - BBC4's highest-rating show ever - with his latest three-parter, Sense and Sensibility for BBC1. There's more Dickens due, with Little Dorrit getting the Bleak House half-hour serialisation treatment for the BBC, while ITV is screening Affinity in January, his second adaptation of a Sarah Waters novel after Tipping the Velvet in 2002. The man said to have done more to popularise the classics than anybody is also beavering away on more contemporary work. ITV1 has greenlit an adaptation of Joanna Briscoe's "sexy thriller" Sleep with Me, set to air in the autumn. Davies is also adapting James Hawes' satire Speak for England for the BBC. "It's a wild, Evelyn Waugh-ish satire on English values - traditional and contemporary," he declares. Says BBC head of drama series and serials Kate Harwood: "He has this incredible knack of cracking open quite complex books like Little Dorrit." A lot is made of Andrew and sex but that's really undervaluing him."

But he knows what makes a modern audience care about characters and he doesn't bow at the altar of the novelist. He doesn't slavishly respect novels to the extent that he puts in stuff that won't work on TV."

Bryan Elsley
What's a 46-year-old writer hitherto best known for ITV hit Rose and Maloney and BBC1's The Crow Road doing making Skins, C4's hit drama series about a group of thrill-seeking teenagers? Fair question, says Skins creator and executive producer Bryan Elsley, who breached the 30-year age gap by creating a 16-strong scriptwriting group featuring some of the youngest and hottest writers in the country.

The writing team is led by Elsley, who started his writing career as a stand-up with Ben Elton, backed by Skins three main writers Ben Schiffer, Jack Thorne (Shameless) and Jamie Brittain, Elsley's son. C4's forthcoming second series, set to kick off in March, features one episode written by 18-year-old Daniel Kaluuya, one of the show's actors. If - or rather when - C4 commissions a third run, Elsley is planning to take a back seat and shake up the series with fresh acting talent. "All of our actors will have reached the age of 18 and are leaving school, which means they'll leave the show," he says.

Dominic Minghella
"Dominic Minghella has it all - heart, humour and a great gut instinct for story," declares Tiger Aspect drama chief Greg Brenman, who executive produces Minghella's hit BBC1 series Robin Hood.

Minghella, brother of feature director Anthony, has a sure touch for popular drama, with Robin Hood now commissioned for a third series and Doc Martin going from strength to strength on ITV1. Next year he plans to become one of the new breed of drama writers who run their own companies. His indie, Plain Vanilla, already has its first show under way: a BBC1 adaptation of Eleanor Updale's Montmorency. Says Minghella: "When I started out I thought I'd be Alan Plater, but I've turned out to be a crowd pleaser." His first popular drama outing was as script editor on Hamish Macbeth, where he almost became a producer. "Producing is the only game in town in British telly," he says. "It's where a lot of the creative choices are made."

Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain

The writers behind Peep Show have established an award-winning partnership that has minted some of our best comedy and satire, including The Thick of It and That Mitchell and
Webb Look. Armstrong and Bain's rise started on a creative writing course at Manchester University. Both attempted to establish a career outside comedy writing - Bain as a novelist while Armstrong worked for the Labour party - before the duo -reunited in 1997 to bounce gags off one another. Credits on a wide range of comedy followed, from the Big Breakfast to 2DTV and Smack the Pony, before their breakthrough C4 series Peep Show, starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Since then their comedy has included Magicians and Ladies and Gentlemen - a film for C4's Comedy Showcase. Says Objective head of comedy Phil Clarke: "Everybody wants to work with them because they are talented, hard-working and are brilliant re-writers who are happy to listen to the comments of others."

Steven Moffat

The twin successes of BBC1 dramas Doctor Who and Jekyll single out Steven Moffat this year. His interpretation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic was described as "ingeniously playful". The same could be said of his work on Doctor Who, where he's tipped to take over from head writer Russell T Davies in 2009. Moffat's work has attracted attention from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, who recommended Moffat to Steven Spielberg as the writer for the duo's new Tintin trilogy. Moffat's break into TV was with BBC series Press Gang. He went on to create comedy drama Coupling, produced by wife Sue Vertue. The partnership continues with his next series for the BBC, Adam and Eve. There's even talk of Moffat updating Press Gang. "I'd love to do a return visit to the characters," he says. "They'll all be sad and fat, decaying in middle age."

Simon Armitage

Commemorating tragedy has become something of a theme for Bafta-winning poet Simon Armitage. Last year it was his Five film 9/11: Out of the Blue from Silver River, commemorating the New York terror attacks of 2001. This year it was his Channel 4 film marking Remembrance Day, The Not Dead from Century Films, which followed three soldier's stories from the war in Malaya in the 1940s to the current conflict in Iraq. It's the latest in a series of ground-breaking creative collaborations between Armitage - who many expect to become the next poet laureate - and Century's Brian Hill, which includes Songbirds, Pornography: The Musical and Bafta-winning Feltham Sings.

Says Hill: "Simon's incredibly good at picking up people's speech rhythms and understands that in order to be effective on television you need to be immediately impactful.Together we've tackled drug addicts, alcoholics, porn stars, war veterans - the common link is we do work about people who are in one way or another dispossessed or disadvantaged."

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Lee said...

Broadcast didn't really call Press Gang a BBC series, did they?

Research and fact-checking like that is why I stopped reading months ago.

Robin Kelly said...

I have noticed that with any good show people assume that it must have been made by the BBC.

OK, so I have only noticed that with Americans but maybe Broadcast journalists don't understand how British TV works either.