Crisis-hit Scots TV industry ‘needs a new Taggart’

Scottish television drama needs another Taggart to boost its flagging fortunes, leading producers have said.

The cast of Taggart in 2008. Picture: PA/STV/SMG
The cast of Taggart in 2008. Picture: PA/STV/SMG

Since the police procedural ended its 30 year run in 2011, television drama in Scotland has been in the doldrums with short-lived programmes failing to fill the gap left by the enduring Glasgow-based detective series.

Leading producers argue a lack of ongoing production has left the industry with a shortage of senior producers and relying on controversial “lift and shift” programmes like Waterloo Road.

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The main trade body for the production sector has described securing a returning series for Scotland as “the holy grail” to help turn the industry around. But the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact) says existing Scottish companies are “struggling” to develop new projects at a time when the UK industry is booming.

Mark McManus and James MacPherson in a scene from Taggart. Picture: Contributed

Existing production companies have been urged to consider mergers and even look overseas for backing for projects in a bid to get them off the ground.

The only new drama series which have emerged in recent years are Shetland, BBC Scotland’s adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ crime novels, and BBC Alba’s relationship drama Bannan.

However only one full series of Shetland, which first aired in March 2013, has been screened to date, while the full series of Bannan is only just about to be broadcast – two years after production began on a pilot.

Although the volume of programming made in Scotland is said to have been on the rise over the past seven years, quota figures are said to have “skewed” by companies involved in “lift and shift programmes” who are based south of the Border.

Home-based dramas such as Shetland are no substitute for the success of the likes of Taggart. Picture: BBC/ITV

The American TV series Outlander, which is now into its second series, has helped boost the value of film and TV productions made in Scotland to a record £45.2 million.

However a creative industries summit in Edinburgh was told that it was “shocking” that during a “golden age of television drama” new no English language series had been made in Scotland by a Scottish company. Jane Muirhead, Pact’s national director for Scotland, said there was “considerable work” to be done before the country could claim to have a “sustainable” production sector.

Speaking at the Scotland Policy Conference, she said: “Too many companies are locked into a pattern of peaks and troughs of activity, struggling to build scale and invest in development and develop new markets.

“Scale means ability to invest in development, which means a higher chance of securing commissions, which in turn means greater credibility, which then delivers more commissions, which then provides the ability to fund development.

“In terms of talent, there’s a shortage of executive and series producers in Scotland, talent that would help to drive the industry forward. But without more production, we can’t grow and nurture the talent and keep them here.

“Export opportunities are available but companies need a competitive catalogue to be able to sell and give them a good platform for driving overseas sales.

“The key to long-term sustainable development is in producers securing returning series.

“We know the holy grail for all producers is a returning series, but unfortunately no-one has a crystal ball that will predict what will actually be successful and resonate with viewers. However, we need to work with commissioners to set this out as an ambition to achieve this.”

Arabaella Page Croft, spokeswoman for the Independent Producers Scotland group, said: “What you have to remember is that film and drama projects are not put together by writers, directors or the crew.

“They are put together by producers. And producing content at an international standard takes skill, confidence and colossal nerve.”

Fresh concerns about the health of the industry in Scotland have been expressed in the wake of a visit by culture secretary Fiona Hyslop to Skye to meet the cast and crew of Bannan to promote the sector.

Three pilot episodes were screened last year by BBC Alba, which will launch the new five-part series on Monday. A further ten instalments are in production to be screened next year.

A spokesman for BBC Scotland, which screened the first series of Shetland in March 2014, said a second had been filmed and was expected to air at some point in 2016.