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YOUVIEW BBC SALFORD AND CORONATION STREET
 

Star date: 31st January 2011 

NIGEL PIVARO GOES TO NATIONS AND REGIONS CONFERENCE

Recently, media people came to Salford from all over to discuss the present and future of TV in the UK.

We sent Nigel Pivaro along to The Lowry to attend sessions on the `future of local tv', `the MediaCityUK move north' and the revolutionary YouView gadget that's going to change viewing habits forever. Oh, and Nigel also listened to his former Coronation Street writer, Daran Little, being interviewed by former producer, Mervyn Watson. 

Full story here…


Delegates who attend a conference that leaves their trousers a good few quid lighter might expect something of substance in return - notwithstanding cheese balls in rice cake coating and all the fresh orange juice (sort of) you can drink. I have to say that this year's Nations and Regions Conference at The Lowry was a let down.

You had a chairman of the YouView board, Kip Meek, who could not give concrete answers to an audience that probably left the Quays Theatre less knowledgeable about his company's `You View' box than when they entered.

This was thanks to an evasive display by Meek, despite the best efforts of the excellent Steve Hewlett to find out the price, various functions and limitations of the latest wonder gadget designed to further enslave, sorry enthrall, the nation to the offerings of  the TV executive's present.

`Can you access the internet easily from page one on your YouView box?' asked Hewlett. Er, no.

 "It's not the internet through the telly" declared Meek, "That's Google TV, we are telly through the internet." Right…I think I have grasped that, I thought hopefully, bemused as almost everybody else.

`So how much will it cost?' Hewlett pressed.
"Well that depends, we are hoping to get our partners to subsidise the product…"
`So how much? Tens? Hundreds?'
"I can't say yet."

Right then, roll up, roll up, welcome to the nation's must have entertainment enhancer that its greatest champion can't actually er, champion.

So if we, a room of media professionals, were confused what chance does Kevin and Sharon, or Alf and Freda, have in getting their collective heads round this product?

My maxim, when applied to technology is, if it's not cheap and simple to use it's just going to end up at the back of the garage along with the Sinclair C5 or Betamax machine - and if the chairman of the products board cannot sell it to a room full of pros then that is probably where it deserves to be.

What else was on offer at the Nations and Regions? Oh yeah, a really soft interview with the prolific TV scriptwriter Daran Little, by his former boss and mentor Mervyn Watson.

This really was a story of anoraks to riches for the Little boy who smugly related how he went from earning £330 a week as Coronation Street's archivist to twenty thousand dollars while working on the US soap All My Children. He cheerfully related how he then went on to write for Hollyoaks, dating a couple of the actors along the way…ethical issues resulting from such carryings on were not discussed.

There was precious little introspection into his writing technique beyond Daran's declaration of undying love for the Street which had propelled him into begging for a job, any job, on the show as a gauche 21 year-old. According to Little he learnt his craft by default while watching and reading every episode over a three year period. This, he related, taught him to recognize what makes a good soap opera character or a bad one.

He made it sound all so depressingly formulaic, as if there is a template for every soap character in a soap. Personally I don't buy that and there was little said about the relationship between the actors and writers, and the cooperative synergy that goes into developing a character.

The forty minute interview passed enjoyably quickly but I was left wondering what purpose such a light and fluffy chat had served at a conference of this kind. Daran's route into writing was not typical, and little insight was to be gained for prospective TV scriptwriters beyond the superficial.

Both contributors had far more to offer - Watson a writer himself who has produced shows from Holby City to Coronation Street, and Little who can write well outside the Soap Box when required. All that emerged was a brief glimpse into the mechanics and functionality of writing for an ongoing drama show, with no exploration into its heart and soul.

A disappointment, as I know from personal experience, Little can dig down deep. He penned one of my best ever pages of monologues in Coronation Street some years back.

The type of question that might have been beneficial to young aspiring writers might have been, `How  does a gay male writer connect with the psyche of a dedicated heterosexual bloke to produce convincing dialogue for his character?'

Meanwhile, upstairs in the Compass Room, Richard Deverall, Chief Operating Officer for BBC North, was being grilled by Steve Hewlett about the benefits of the MediaCityUK move.

While nationally the idea of a full BBC channel move to Peel Holdings-land kind of excited the media audience, it was the giveaway bits of info that were more gripping… that the BBC had a (contractual?) commitment to move 1500 people here, and when staff refused to come and departments shrank with the cuts, they kept having to shift more and more sections north to make up the numbers.

We also learned that the relocation costs are £155million"but that includes 20 years of rent" explained Deverall, almost apologetically.

Hewlett finally asked `How is Media City going to do anything for Leeds?' Oi! Get to the back of the queue! We still want to know what Media City is going to do for Salford!
 
There followed a session again hosted by Hewlett that was like a replay of a debate during the 2009 conference on local TV. Three panelists waffled on about how local TV would definitely happen. Posh Yank lady Claire Ender, who runs a TV analysis firm, expressed her views through the prism of the Shot Report, commissioned by merchant banker Nicholas Shot. Do these people have any credibility left at all? Let alone telling us how local TV could work…

Ten Alps whizz kid, Alex Connock, told us that local TV could be funded from philanthropic sources for high end investigative journalism. Hmmm…noble but doubtful. It all seemed like a déjà vu until a fourth panellist, Nick Booth, an investigative reporter and social media expert, broke the spell and uttered the most sense by asking `Why are we having this conversation at all?' His analysis was that local TV was already happening and in the hands of the people via Internet TV.

He told the audience of what locals in Walsall were doing - filming council meetings, challenging councillors on issues in the community and uploading the content onto their very own internet television platform.

This I thought could be a whole new future for Salford and the Salford Star, as long as the Council and other bodies recognise their obligation and our right to an open transparent, local democracy, of course. Whaddya say John Merry? Watch this space… 


 

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