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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Barbara Machin on what makes a great TV series

What makes a great TV serial? What makes a good TV writer? How do we create the best TV shows? These are questions that Barbara Machin is wrestling with everyday. Here are some quotes from her that I captured on 2 separate occasions at the Screenwriters Festival. While TV long running serials and soaps are not my thing I must admire her passion and dedication and I celebrate that here...

A short bio: Barbara Machin is an Emmy award winning television writer with over fifty hours of prime-time television to her credit. She has had, productions on all the major British TV channels and has many TV films to her name, specialising in long-running series including 'Waking the Dead' and 'Casualty'. With 'Waking the Dead', Barbara secured the award for the Best Drama Series at the 2004 Emmys.

On new ideas...
"Innovation is a must. We should be giving the audience not what they want, but what they never dreamed of. Offering a surprise, delivering characters that are really real - thats what we must do. Surprise and real characters have become the territory of reality TV. But that's our job! That's what we should be doing! We must be the most exciting thing in the room. Are we being bold enough?"

On creating a new series...
"The 'smash and grab' technique of making a series doesn't work. Why are we shooting when we don't have a full plan? Instead let's over plan. Let's map out not just this series but series 2 as well - all BEFORE we shoot a single frame."

On writing for serials...
"The good news is that serials are a great place for writers to learn. The bad news is that the pressure to turn around so many episodes means that new writers don't get the support they once did. But this is the world so we should live with it."

On writing for established series...
"In fact, serials are a great way to get your stories out there. They are like a framework to weave in your ideas. Don't see them as a straightjacket. See them as a method to tell your stories, about your issues, smuggled in under the radar"

I say...
Some of those phrases really work for me. Especially about the challenge to be 'the most exciting thing in the room'. This carries extra resonance for me as today there are more distractions, more competition for people's time, more things in the room.

Also, I like her idea about being bold. But I think I'd go further. We should be bold in our careers as well as bold in our storytelling. As writers, are we bold enough to find other ways to tell stories? TV is no longer the only show in the town, no longer the only thing in the room. We don't need to smuggle in our ideas anymore. We don't need to make our ideas fit their format. We can go elsewhere.

Photo and bio fromGloucester Uni.
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