Flavours of the month: pleasing the crowds or a case of over-exposure? by Ali Bacon

Cross-channel confusion
Last autumn I had a disturbing experience. Well it wasn’t too bad because I was only sitting in front of the telly and no blood was spilled, and you know how it is when a character appears and your immediate reaction is ‘oh that’s so-and-so from what’s it’s name,’ because with any actor worth their salt you’re bound to think of them as their most recent persona.  But this time it got out of hand. 

I was watching the dramatisation of Capital by John Lanchester and couldn’t miss the fact that city financier Roger Yount was actor Toby Jones aka Lance from cult BBC4 comedy The Detectorists. But then Roger’s wife Arabella turned out to be Rachel Stirling who happens to be the wife of the other guy in The Detectorists, Lance’s mate Andy. Confused? No, not exactly, but it didn’t help with my suspension of disbelief.

Then there was Nicola Walker (great actress, loved her feisty farmer in Last Tango in Halifax) playing two different detectives apparently at the same time. Okay, in River she actually played a dead cop while in The Unforgotten she was very much alive, but a cop is a cop and it’s hard enough to remember which crime series is which these days without the cast being the same. 
I began this rant back then (we saved the whole of River until The Unforgotten had finished) and put it to one side, but now it has come back to haunt me. Current flavours of the month are Olivia Coleman in The Night Manager (a worthy actress but hardly ever off our screens) and her co-star from Rev, Tom Hollander. But hey, while Night Manager is screening, what’s this on the other side – Doctor Thorne with its eponymous hero played by none other than Mr H.

Good cop, bad cop, same cop?
Now there will always be are a few people whom I can’t get enough of (including women, so we’re not just talking scything moments here!) but come to think of it I probably like Juliet Stevenson because she’s quite choosy about which roles she takes on, where as the attraction of High Bonneville began to wear off when I’d seen him in 2012 and W1A as well as Downton, all within a couple of seasons.

Stuff like this has been happening for a while of course, because in the on-going ratings war that is current TV, any show that does well immediately has new series commissioned regardless of whether or not there’s a plot to carry on with and any face that fits well in one scenario is pounced on for anything similar (or not so similar) that comes along. In this respect Dr Thorne (apart from Hollander and the similarly ubiquitous Rebecca Front) has at least introduced a few new faces and brought the welcome return of an old one

But when we see the same people in different dramas airing on the same night (I give you James Norton in almost any role you care to mention) it does make me worry at the extent to which TV relies on known celebrities. We can’t deny James or anyone else the right to get it while they can, but while a few actors hog the limelight it’s the others, the drama school fledglings or the people who were popular ten years ago, I worry about. It’s as if the TV channels are throwing all their money at an increasingly small number of actors (thereby hiking up production costs too – several million for each ep of The Night Manager, we hear) while many others are stuck in the dole queue, waiting for the chance to be in something less glitzy, except glitzy is what everything these days has to be.

People will say it’s the market that makes it like this. To sell a programme there has to be a big name. Now I wonder if there’s another arena in which this scenario rings a bell? 

Picture credit: Image from 'From Pages to Pictures' by Briana https://frompagestopictures.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/monday-movie-meme-good-cop-bad-cop/


Chris Longmuir said…
I know what you mean. I'm just a little bit entranced by James Norton. I loved him in Grantchester, and again in War and Peace, but I haven't watched Happy Valley yet where he plays an entirely different character. I have the series 1 DVD sitting but haven't had time to watch it yet. I do hope it doesn't spoil him for me and I have to take him off my wish list. And I'm not telling you what my wish list is for!
AliB said…
LOL! I actually find him a bit wooden in Grantchester, or maybe it's the writing. Happy Valley is very very different!!!
Lydia Bennet said…
The usual method of success followed by more followed by over-exposure is based on laziness imo, producers and casting directors just jump at anyone who's about at the time and is getting good press and good social media comments. Drama series can be very expensive to make so they do go for the big stars. Similarly if you've already become a big Amazon star with one book, they'll plug your next books far more than others, so success breeds success. I think there are other ways they favour both big publishers and big selling authors as well, eg allowing more leeway on how you categorise the book, with my indie ebooks I've never been offered the carefully-honed categories others use to ensure they can use 'best selling' for the rest of time because it topped the 'Doggie Detectives in Verse' category for ten minutes three years ago! :)
AliB said…
Nothing succeeds like success - why didn't I think of that for a title!- is definitely the case. The categories thing is interesting. 'A Kettle of fish' is a coming-of-age novel for which amazon offers no category at all. Probably worth a post in itself:)
Andrew Crofts said…
The plight of actors trying to earn a living seems very similar to that of authors - so many people chasing so few jobs, most of which go to names and faces that are already known to be popular with the public. "Discoverability" seems to be as much of problem for both professions.

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