Sky’s producers have identified a trend in television for anti-heroes, Nordic locations and Hollywood stars transferring to TV and have duly crammed all of them in one big series. Take the best of House of Cards, The Killing, True Detective and a few others and put them all together and you get a tick-box approach to drama making rather than a gripping, moving and original story. Taking the best of other hits and creating a Frankenstein’s monster of a television show will not lead to a successful programme but it could be the beginning of a painting by numbers approach to TV programme making.
Ask yourself what made The Killing so successful? Why was True Detective so gripping? What made House of Cards a ratings winner? Above Hollywood stars, above unusual locations above everything was the story. If these shows were not well written and directed then it doesn’t matter who is in them and where they are set….people will switch off. Having a Kevin Spacey figure will obviously attract a certain amount of people to sample the programme but no one is such a Spacey fan that they would sit through two series of poorly constructed nonsense. In television, story is still king.
On viewing Fortitude it seems that the makers have drawn up a list what makes a successful drama.
Hollywood Star? Michael Gambon and Stanley Tucci. Tick.
Bleak, isolated setting. Let’s do the Arctic Circle. Tick.
People love conflicted anti-heroes. Tick.
Hey we even got the woman from The Killing. Double Tick.
With all these boxes ticked surely it’s going to be a winner.
The story you ask? Exactly where story and character development comes on the producers’ tick-box list is still unclear. I am not completely writing Fortitude off. Its only episode one of 11 and to be honest, although I felt it dragged at the beginning it picked up and eventually I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen. My problem isn’t with Fortitude as a programme, it is a problem with the sense that it has been made not because of a great story but because some TV executives have thought that the viewing public will watch anything if it has a film star solving a murder in the snow. The idea that we are thought of as that stupid hurts but so does the concept of future TV shows being made like this. I am a massive television fan and viewer… to quote Kenneth from the show 30 Rock, there are “only two things I love in this world, everybody and television”. So what hurts most is the idea that future shows will be made up of elements of other previous shows that have done well. Just because, for example, a show featuring a talking cat won an award we will be bombarded with talking dogs, mice, snakes and all other types of animals with executives up and down TV land shouting “well they liked the talking cat so they’ll watch all other talking animals won’t they?”
This concept of taking something popular and repeating and diluting it is not new. The music industry have been doing this for years. When a new and exciting band comes along they are soon followed by watered down, slightly less talented versions of themselves. When Blur and Oasis exploded in the mid 90s, we were soon drowning in long haired guitar based bands who wouldn’t have got close to a record company if it weren’t for Oasis and Blur. These indie land-fill bands who had one good song yet got a three album deal were gone as quickly as they arrived. We eventually reached saturation point and the process begins again with a new stand-out band or musician. Is television really going this way?
Television and music are different mediums so as the music industry has survived this practice, I don’t feel television can. There are fewer and fewer truly original and brilliant dramas. Even two of last year’s stand out successes, Fargo and Orange is the New Black were based on a film and a book. Where have all the writers gone? When something is truly original it is bound to be copied, it is natural for it to influence creative people. This is fine. I have no problem with influence and watching something which has obviously been influenced by a past programme, because this is how art works. It is how blatant Fortitude seems to make it. It has not so much been influenced by other dramas as just plain copying them. Not so much standing on the shoulders of giants but more kicking the giant and then taking the credit for everything the giant has done.
This cannot be the future of television making. I don’t want to picture a time when a new writer pitches an idea and the executives in power simply look across and say, “well its good but it needs more snow and darkness and can we make the short fat detective tall and good looking as I hear Ryan Gosling is available”. I hope originality wins and someone makes a programme about a nice guy in a hot bright country and it is a massive success. Until then I’m stuck with Michael Gambon shooting polar bears in the snow.