MEDIA: New Drama out of a Crisis ; ITV May Have Slid in the Ratings, but It Hopes That a Change in Commissioning Policy Will Put It at the Cutting Edge
Carter, Meg, The Independent (London, England)
CREATIVE DOLDRUMS or a brave new era? Depending on who you talk to, ITV drama is either in a trough or on a roll. Battered by criticism of poor ratings performance, ITV's director of channels, David Liddiment, recently claimed in these pages that ITV must be about more than ratings - that it has to be about "range, diversity and our willingness to take risks".
Yet at the same time the novelist David Lodge was condemning ITV, among others, for stifling creativity in TV drama: for over- investing in police and crime series, and for condensing novels to such an extent that many TV adaptations are implausible or simply don't make sense.
But ITV drama is changing, as a number of shows in coming weeks will reveal. Likely to be one of the most controversial is The Jury. This peaktime drama series, due to air in a 9pm Sunday-night slot from mid-February, follows the trial of a reclusive Sikh schoolboy for the murder of a white classmate. The story is told from the jury's perspective.
Then there's Blood Strangers, a two-parter about a mother who, when her 14-year-old daughter is found murdered, discovers not only that her daughter was a prostitute, but that the child's Asian boyfriend was her pimp, and Loving You, which deals with child sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, new adaptations of Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga and Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim are waiting in the wings, while a remake of Dr Zhivago, written by Andrew Davies, and a new drama about Henry VIII, starring Ray Winstone, are about to go into production.
Nick Elliott, ITV's head of drama, resists suggestions of a conscious change of direction, though he admits to a preference now for drama with "contemporary resonance". He says: "It's very difficult to innovate in TV drama. Our Othello is one notable recent exception. But otherwise it is hard to push the edge as you can with other programming genres. This is why my ruling principle is that any new ITV drama should not be like one you might have seen on ITV four or five years ago. …