Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Offensiveness of Talent

One of the most offensive terms bandied around by TV executives is the word ‘talent’. It’s the term for on-screen performers. Actors. Comedians. The famous people. The people the public get excited about.

Pic by Memaxmarz via Flickr
I understand their importance. As far as the audience goes, these guys and girls are the show. They have no idea who all the names at the end of the show are, and they don’t care. Why would they? I don’t much care who boxes my cereal or slaughters my roast chicken. I just want to eat.

But to imply the on-screen cast are the ones with the talent and that the rest of us just have skills, or ‘uses’, is stunningly rude. I’m not saying that the writers are the ‘real talent’, but picking out one set of skills and labelling them ‘the talent’ is divisive. Anyone who works in television knows that it’s a team game, and the show only works if everyone pulls their weight.

You have to pull together to make a show for the decreasing budgets for BBC sitcoms. It’s all part of an initiative called Delivering Quality First – which naturally involves cutting 5% from a show’s budget each year, regardless. Yup. You reward success with a budget cut. That’ll help deliver quality first. Brilliant. What was the salary and pension of the person who thought of that?

So in telly we all pull together. The truly talented can easily be overlooked. One of the most talented members of the Bluestone 42 team is Harry Banks, our production designer who is in charge of how the show looks. Shamefully overlooked by the BAFTA Craft Awards, Harry created a small fleet of military vehicles and bits of Chinook that even fooled the military viewers. And of course
Harry would be the first to modestly pay tribute to his talented team.

I mention this because TV people and the people who surround the industry love to focus on the on-screen talent who are, to be fair, normally better looking than the rest of us who sit and watch monitors when the filming starts. In a sense, it was ever thus. Movie stars and matinee idols are as old as the industry. They are always the public faces, and effectively the ones selling the shows or movies.

Recently, Comedy TV people have increasingly fallen in love with writer-performers – who are, in many ways, a one-stop talent shop. And this, as an overweight, scraggy bearded, off-screen writer with stained teeth, is slightly troubling, although it’s taken me a little while to work out what I’m worried about.

But now I’ve had a think about this phenomenon which is not new, but certainly on the rise. So over the next two or three blogposts (mainly because it’s about 2000 words), I’m going to share those thoughts.

So, read on.

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