I could jump on the BBC-bashing bandwagon but that would be too easy.
Let’s instead offer up Ten Top TV Lessons to Learn From the BBC’s Production of The Biggest River Pageant Since 1662.
So much more positive and constructive!
- A Presenter is only as good as the Producer/Production put behind him or her, and a Production is only as good as the Presenter you put in front it – one of my favourite little homilies. Actually a production can be better than the presenter you put in front of it because strong production can hide many weaknesses in the on-screen talent.
- Which leads me to number two: NEVER reply wholly on your presenter to hold a programme together. That presenter may have done research on his or her own initiative but best you don’t assume that. Give them structure, expert interviewees, solid research and plenty of suggested lines of questioning.
- A programme is only as good as the planning, preparation and research you put into it before filming or broadcast starts. Obvious but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated loudly, clearly and frequently.
- Video tape (or its digital equivalent) can get you out of a whole heap of trouble; it can add colour to a dismal show, information to lack lustre content, a sense of action to a slow format and best of all, provide thinking time for a live production in trouble. Yes it’s generally more expensive but short insert films with relevant content, or simply setting the scene for the live action, can really help an unpredictable live event.
- Presenters and Reporters: NEVER assume the production will get you out of a hole or spoon-feed you. Anyone who wants to be a TV presenter must understand that it is part of your job to prepare for a job, just as an actor needs to prepare for a new role. If you are given a gem of a job don’t blow it by failing to do your homework. Stay up all night if necessary researching and preparing.
- Always think through the ‘What-If’s”. No good live producer would fail to do so. What if the main guest turns up late or not at all? How will I change the running order? How will I fill the gap? What if it rains on my outside broadcast? What if we’re asked to fill an extra ten minutes by the network due to an emergency of some sort? Alan Yentob on BBC Radio 4 defended the coverage of the Jubilee River Pageant saying it was subject, like many live events, to a series of What-If’s. I say many of those What-If’s are entirely predictable.
- Any show, even a live event out of a producer’s control, needs to answer the basic question: “what’s the story and how are we going to tell it?” Within one big story/event is generally a whole host of smaller stories – in this case, the people, the traditions, the history, the event preparations, the costs, the design, the key players, the clothes, the river – the list goes on forever. Any and all of those and more could and should have been researched, set up, filmed and used in the production.
- A major public event produced in the age of iPhones, user-generated content and immediate media access should consider using the public to help make its show. Photos are sent immediately to a website or email address. Those photos can be edited together to the beat of a suitable track within minutes by a piece of software – no well-paid director even required! Personally I’m no fan of a TV Twitter slot just for the sake of it but public comments well produced would have been an obvious element of such a show.
- Always assume it will rain on your outside broadcast whatever the forecasters say!
- Nothing, NOTHING, compensates for lack of CONTENT. No attractive presenters, no gimmicks, no comedian, no beauty queens preening or celebrities chatting, no high profile presenter or fancy graphics – NOTHING COMPENSATES FOR LACK OF CONTENT. And that content should be obvious in advance in the script, the research briefs, the well-briefed presenters, the well-chosen studio experts, the expertly cast human-interest stories.
It’s easier said than done. The BBC did a great job over the four days. The River Pageant stood out in its disappointing lack of production values. It’s easy to criticise so let’s end by making some suggestions of our own. Could we have done better? Please do leave your ideas in the comments below.
Just think when some poor TV producer Googles “How to produce major river pageant on River Thames for Queen” in 2022 (shortly after typing in “What type of anniversary is 70 years? Answer: Platinum) he or she may well reach this page. And let’s hope they find a whole host of creative, informative, entertaining Big Ideas for the production.
OK, I’ll start.
How about we launch a competition to the public asking them to make a short film (no more than 2-3 minutes) about what they are doing to celebrate the jubilee. If you are lacking production staff to view them all, use peer voting to get the public to vote their favourite and choose the final films from that list. Who knows what gems we could get.
And given we have the resources of the BBC, why don’t we ask all the local news teams within the BBC to nominate a selection of strong stories from their region that relate in some way to the pageant and commission them to make the ones that most appeal. Again short films that won’t distract for any length of time from the live action but give you some background colour and content to drive the event along.
Got any ideas yourselves? Please let us have them here, however mad or obvious! Stunts, live action, studio content, anything you like. And give us your thoughts on the TV coverage of the Jubilee River Pageant. Were they unfairly judged on a difficult job? Did they redeem themselves with the concert and parade? What did you think of the other channels’ coverage? Let us know. We’re interested!