It has been nearly two years in the making, dogged by controversy since it was announced and planned against a backdrop of cynicism. With its launch just weeks away, a clear vision of BBC Scotland’s new channel is finally emerging, writes Brian Ferguson.
The time to judge its output will be after it goes on air on 24 February. But with the wraps coming off its schedule highlights, is there anything to be optimistic or excited about? Admittedly, expectations have been low, dampened by concerns that its £32 million budget is too low and it will be dominated by repeats. But the initial verdict has to be a cautious thumbs up.
A documentary about the 2014 independence referendum campaign should be compulsive viewing if all the key protagonists take part. It would also be a major surprise if it does not make headlines of its own. A two-part series fronted by Allan Little to mark the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament will come from an unusual angle in that those reflecting on changes in the political landscape will either be in their 20s, 40s or 60s.
A Scottish alternative to Question Time could be a welcome breath of fresh air to the BBC’s long-running show, which seems loved and hated on social media in equal measure, although its exact format and host are yet to be revealed.
A key strength would appear to be documentaries. Something of a coup has been scored in getting Emeli Sande to hand-pick street performers and mentor them to appear alongside the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It is not hard to imagine her uncovering at least one major star of the future. Other unlikely stars could be unearthed in fly-on-the-wall series focusing on Scotland’s biggest Asian wedding planners and at Central Station in Glasgow. Everyday heroes in the Scottish Ambulance Service and at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital are also set to enter the limelight.
BBC Scotland’s much-maligned arts coverage on TV looks set to be dramatically improved with extended coverage of Edinburgh’s summer festivals, major Glasgow events like Celtic Connections and TRNSMT, and Belladrum in the Highlands. More groundbreaking is a showcase of the lunchtime theatre series A Play, A Pie and A Pint – 15 years after its launch – while Scottish Ballet’s 50th anniversary will be marked with a fly-on-the-wall show.
Still Game’s much-hyped swansong understandably tops the comedy bill, but the opportunities for a new generation of comics to make their name catches the eye, with Robert Florence and Ashley Storrie fronting new sketch and stand-up shows piloted last year.
BBC Scotland’s big reveal was the channel’s first drama commission – an Edinburgh set thriller starring Jamie Sives and Mark Bonnar as brothers whose lives are turned upside down after a tragic car accident. More home-grown talent will be on show in The Grey Area, a drama about “a young rapper, a burnt-out addict and a teenage misfit” made by Garry Fraser, a former heroin addict turned filmmaker mentored by Irvine Welsh and Danny Boyle. The city’s more glamorous, but equally dangerous, side will be reflected in Clique, the university campus thriller set and shot in Edinburgh, which has had a UK-wide cult following on BBC Three. It is doubtful the new channel will do enough to appease the many critics of BBC Scotland. But it does appear to have a wealth of material to attract a range of different audiences. The real litmus test, however, is whether people will judge the programming of good enough quality to stick with the channel.