Strength, breadth, and quality: The Edinburgh TV Festival

Strength, breadth, and quality: The Edinburgh TV Festival
Clockwise from top left: Sky's Mary & George, ITV's Love & Death and Channel 4's Alone.

The Media Leader columnist Stephen Arnell says that the annual TV festival showed things don’t bode well for British TV. Having been at the Festival, Thinkbox CEO Lindsey Clay couldn’t disagree more. The biggest challenge TV has is that there’s so much to watch.

I’m often dismayed after reading one of ex-TV executive Stephen Arnell’s articles for The Media Leader about the TV industry and its current executives. The ad hominem attacks, the cynicism, the relentless negativity… it doesn’t usually add up to a very satisfying read, for me at least. But you can’t enjoy every article.

However, after reading his most recent piece — including the belittling of someone brave enough to admit to mental health issues — I wanted to respond. As he appears to bear grudges, it isn’t something I do lightly.

The subject of his article was The Edinburgh TV Festival. I suspect that most people reading this article won’t have been there — which is a shame; you should go — so there’s a risk of taking his sketch as a fair representation.

But I was there, as I am every year, and I don’t recognise the Festival he attended.

I thought it might be useful to balance things a bit. TV isn’t without its challenges — and Edinburgh consistently tackled them, from the advertising downturn to freelancer poverty — but the quality and breadth of what is available now and coming soon to British viewers isn’t one of them.

In a short article it isn’t possible to do justice to the wealth of treats we have in store on screen, but I’ll have a go…

What’s coming up for British TV?

Sky’s Mary & George starring Julianne Moore (“looked interesting” according to Arnell, which was the most positive critique he gave).

Love & Death with Elizabeth Olsen telling the story of a 1980s Texas housewife accused of murder (ITV).

Partygate, a meticulously researched docudrama about, well, you know what it’s about (Channel 4).

Mamma Mia!, the new theatrical competition (ITV).

True Love, a comedy about assisted suicide (Channel 4).

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, scored by Hans Zimmer and shimmering with stars (Sky).

The Marlow Murder Club, the new crime drama from UKTV.

The Inheritance, a new murder drama from Channel 5.

Archie, with Jason Isaacs playing Cary Grant (ITV).

Netflix’s Beckham documentary with unprecedented access.

Ground-breaking natural history series, Secret World of Sound with David Attenborough (Sky).

Police drama Payback, produced by Line Of Duty showrunner Jed Mercurio (ITV).

Depp V Heard examining the infamous defamation trial (Channel 4).

The Long Shadow, a factual drama examining the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper (ITV).

Dickens’ Italy with David Harewood (Sky).

The Pill, Davina McCall’s follow up to her hugely successful documentaries on the menopause (Channel 4).

The return of Funny Woman, starring Gemma Arterton (Sky).

Gemma and Gorka, a documentary series following the celebrity couple who met on Strictly (UKTV).

Three Little Birds, telling the life-affirming story of Sir Lenny Henry’s mum (ITV).

All Creatures Great and Small (Channel 5).

Channel 4’s Climate Season.

House of Kardashian (Sky).

Friday Night Lycett (Channel 4)

New gameshow Jeopardy, hosted by Stephen Fry (ITV).

Rob Beckett’s Smart TV (Sky).

Alone, the most extreme survival show yet, where contestants are dropped into the Canadian wilderness (Channel 4) …

…not to mention Big Brother, Bake Off, I’m a Celebrity, the Rugby World Cup, Sky Sports and so on and so on. And the BBC obviously. And Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Apple TV. And the stuff that’s already on and continuing. And the on-demand archives, the emerging FAST channels, and so on and so on.

TV has something for everyone all the time

Yes, not every show will appeal to everyone. I don’t want to watch all of them, and it is easy to cherry-pick things you don’t fancy and have a self-satisfying scoff if that’s your thing.

But the point of TV is that there’s something for everyone all the time. The biggest challenge TV has is that there is so much of it. It’s a remarkable eco-system of creative achievement day in, day out.

Now, I would say that wouldn’t I? But I challenge anyone not to read the limited glimpse above and think things don’t bode well for British TV.

I suspect Arnell cares about TV, which is why he is motivated to write about it. But if he could write something positive about it every hundred or so articles, it would be a refreshing change. There’s plenty to choose from.

And on the topic of Channel 5’s Ben Frow — who admitted to struggling with anxiety so much he almost quit — or anyone else who has mental health issues, perhaps don’t write anything at all unless it’s supportive. After Edinburgh I then spent two days training as a mental health first aider, and one of the many things it underlined was a little empathy goes a long way.

Lindsey Clay is CEO of Thinkbox, the marketing body for UK TV advertising.

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