BBC admits need for new Scots shows

Jack Jarvis, played by Ford Kiernan, and Victor McDade, played by Greg Hemphill, in Still Game.
Picture: Alan Peebles/BBC Scotland/PA Wire

Jack Jarvis, played by Ford Kiernan, and Victor McDade, played by Greg Hemphill, in Still Game. Picture: Alan Peebles/BBC Scotland/PA Wire

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BBC Scotland chiefs have admitted they are unhappy with the number of high-­quality drama and comedy shows being made north of the border.

Senior figures at Pacific Quay have said the corporation is failing to meet the demands of audiences for distinctive programming for a Scottish audience.

And they have also conceded that not enough shows which are either made in or set in Scotland are making it onto the UK-wide network.

Senior figures have set out wide-ranging ambitions, including establishing a “bedrock of activity” to support Scotland’s screen sector and getting a national film and television school off the ground.

Speaking at the launch of BBC Scotland’s new season of programmes, which is spearheaded by Still Game’s comeback, they said the “holy grail” for the next few years was a “consistent, constant, wide-range of production and commissioning in Scotland”.

Donalda Mackinnon, head of programmes at BBC Scotland, admitted the portrayal of Scotland in network comedy and drama was “not where I would want it to be”.

She added: “That bedrock of activity that BBC Scotland should be supporting is hugely important. We can’t do it on our own, we need to work with others, but we shouldn’t under-estimate it.

“I wish we had a sufficient critical mass of production across all levels to keep people here rather than having the talent drain that sometimes happens when people go elsewhere. The holy grail is having a consistent, constant, wide range of production and commissioning here in Scotland. That’s the ambition.

“Portrayal of Scotland to Scotland and the rest of the UK is hugely important. We probably don’t do enough of it … in fact, I know we don’t do enough of it. I think we need to embrace change.

“We shouldn’t always be self-consciously making programmes about ourselves. We should be making programmes about any subject under the sun because we’re qualified to do so. A really healthy mix is important.”

Ewan Angus, commissioning editor, said the key aim for BBC Scotland in future years was to produce more high-quality drama “with a really authentic voice”.

He added: “We know that’s what the audience tells us they want and that would have to be the priority.

“In a few years time, if we are able to turn around and see that we have significantly increased the amount of drama produced out of Scotland and for Scotland and for the wider world, we’ll be starting to make real progress.”

Meanwhile BBC Scotland chiefs say meeting the needs of its core audience will be crucial in deciding the shape of any new “Scottish Six” programme.

Head of news Gary Smith the relevance of issues to audiences north of the border was the main principle which would underpin any new format.

BBC Scotland has been testing out various options for an hour-long integrated news bulletin which could replace the BBC News at Six and Reporting Scotland.

Mr Smith, who was appointed last October, said: “We get regular audiences for Reporting Scotland of around half a million. A lot of people watch the Six O’Clock network news as well.

“It is very important to that core audience what we do in that hour. We’re looking at issues around the structure, in terms of exactly what news we’re giving people and when, around the principle of what is relevant to audiences in Scotland.

“For an awful long time, issues like education, health and the justice system have been devolved in Scotland. We now have the Scottish Parliament having powers over taxation and welfare.

“A lot of domestic policy is very different and what Scottish audiences are interested in is very different from English audiences. That’s really the issue we’re looking at. Audiences are really what it’s all about.

“It is really about finding a balance, serving the core audience and what they still want to watch in large numbers, look at whether we can do things a bit better and change things, and also think about the potential new audience that we reach on social media.”

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