How to write BBC drama

Ben Stephenson, the Controller of BBC Drama, recently gave a rare interview to the BBC Writers Room website. Here are five key points from the conversation:

1. Anyone can have an idea. Ideas are not the problem. Ideas are easy. What’s hard is making an idea work in a script, and making it complex and rounded, intelligent and different. It’s the execution that’s difficult.

2. I’m only interested in the people that would lie down in front of a train to make something. There are a number [of commissions] where the passion of the individuals has made me want to make them, rather than the fact that I love the script.

3. The writer is the person who matters the most in terms of the passion of it and vision of it. I couldn’t care less what experience they have. The test is – is this a good script or not? The truth is, you never know if someone’s going to be able to write a good script until they’ve written a good script.

4. [My job] is about trying to ask big questions that make it as good as it can be. When you’re close to the process sometimes you can forget the essentials. And it’s not about having a different opinion. What matters is: what is the show, and how can it be more what it is, and by being more what it is, how can it be most different?

5. The average age audience of BBC drama is 55. But the minute you start commissioning for a particular audience you get very reductive, anti-creative, second-guessing television. At the end of the day you just commission good ideas and you hope that out of the range of good ideas you’ll get audiences.


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