‘Shameless, TV’s Shakespeare’ by Paul Abbott

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Yesterday I attended another Coventry Conversation, they really are such a great resource for students at Coventry. It is fascinating to listen to such eminent figures in the arts on a weekly basis. Yesterday’s conversation was from Paul Abbott who is a multi award winning writer and script editor. His most well known piece of work is Channel Four’s Shameless but he is also responsible for children’s medical drama Children’s Ward, police drama Touching Evil starring Robson Green, political thriller State of Play and many other projects including producing the second series of Cracker which meant working with Robbie Coltrane. These have all received critical acclaim and been acknowledged with awards or nominations at major ceremonies.

The talk was entitled ‘Shameless, TV’s Shakespeare’ so was predominantly about Channel Four’s flagship drama and it was so interesting to hear about the intricacies of writing for television as well as the influences that inspired such a piece to be created. Most writers will be familiar with the phrase ‘write about what you know’ and Paul Abbott certainly did this, Frank the lead character is based on a mixture of his father and uncle and the lifestyle led by the characters is very similar to the upbringing of the writer, ironically his underprivileged background has given him the inspiration to go on and be a wealthy and extremely successful professional.

One of the most intriguing parts of the talk was about financing high profile productions and how the funding differs from Britain to the USA. For example an American production company will put aside forty million dollars just for a pilot episode of a new sitcom, they will spend a million dollars a day on a film shoot and happily spend sixty million pounds of a film’s budget on advertising. In Britain it is not like that at all, an entire series of sixteen episodes of Shameless will cost channel four eleven million pounds, this is a huge discrepancy and in my opinion British television does not suffer from that at all.

Obviously on both sides of the pond there are huge amounts of money being spent and in some ways, although it is how he has made his money, Mr Abbott resents this because for the first two series that he wrote on his own everything was just as he wanted it. It was his masterpiece, but as more and more money got pumped in Channel Four began to chase ratings and the show became very different. You could really hear the resentment Paul Abbott feels for this, I think it is such a shame that a piece that was originally such a work of art should be dumbed down for the sake of a larger audience, but this is unfortunately the world of mainstream broadcasting. In his own words the series has become ‘cocks and coke’

Mr Abbott has become so successful and so powerful within the scriptwriting world that producers are desperate to hear what he has to say, this has however become almost a curse because whatever he writes is held in the highest regard and is likely to be made. He wants them to buy what they like, not just something he has written and I can understand that. it is an interesting reflection on the lack of risks producers are willing to take.

Next week’s Coventry Conversation will undoubtedly have an entirely different feel. Bex from Big Brother will be coming to talk about the way being such a success on the show has changed her life. It will surely provoke an interesting debate about the world of reality television and celebrity we live in.

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