I wrote the other day about an annoying trend by the TV companies to have their main presenters showcase several shows. As if there wasn’t any new talent out there. On top of that I’ve noticed a similar tendency for all the broadcasters to get their popular ‘stars’ on as many shows as possible. So we see the likes of Denise Welch, who was for several years acting against type as the flirty barmaid in Corrie, playing a regular role on daytime panel show Loose Women as the loosest of the lot, featuring in the drama series Waterloo Rd, then as a contestant on the current series of Dancing on Ice and tonight I saw her and hubby appearing on a trailer for the forthcoming comedy series Benidorm. And of course she features on every damn chat show as her celebrity status as the boozing, snorting, partying 52 year old in all the sleb mags and other media grows by the day. It seems to be a deliberate policy of finding a viewers’ favourite then re-cycling him or her throughout the schedules over and over again like a bit of old plastic.
To be honest I’ve always had a bit of a sneaky liking for Denise – she seems to be mess of issues but honestly earthy in a WYSIWYG kind of way. However I’ve seen more of her than her own husband I suspect in the last few months and I no longer feel positive towards her or any of her roles. What do they say about familiarity breeding contempt? And this leads me on to my main point which is not really anti-Denise but a rant about the current casting policy on TV, especially on drama programmes. I’m still old enough to remember the impact of Brideshead Revisited which had a star in the cast as great as Sir Lawrence Olivier but was renowned for uncovering a raft of fresh acting talent like Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Diana Quick and Nickolas Cage.
Nowadays Brideshead simply wouldn’t be commissioned but there’s still tons of drama showcased on the main channels. But rather than unearth some up and coming talent, the drama departments just take the easy option and re-cycle the same old faces. I find it a bit depressing and it puts me off watching some programmes. Some, possibly many, viewers may disagree but to be honest I just find it increasingly difficult to believe any role that James Nesbitt plays now because he’s on screen so often in a bewildering series of characters.
I have this image in my mind of the BBC Drama commissioning head talking to his casting editor and saying ‘we’ve got 3 new series in the pipeline; the first revolves around a top Government research scientist who’s come out of an affair and is desperate to rescue his marriage, who do you recommend for the role?’ ‘No problem, it’s gotta be Trevor Eve’. ‘Great, now the second concerns a corporate solicitor whose forte is representing and fighting for companies in huge litigation battles but away from the legal power scenes he’s a widower struggling to keep his kids on the straight and narrow’. ‘OK, I’ve got a great idea for the male lead – Trevor Eve.’ ‘Inspired! he’s perfect. Now the third new series stars the brilliant head of a very successful PR agency who pulls off some amazing client deals but, as a recent divorcee, he has trouble reading the personal signals from his numerous attractive female colleagues. Who could we get for this challenging role?’ ‘Hang on, this is a bit left field and you’re going to think I’m completely mad but what about….Trevor Eve?’ ‘I love it! Man you’re on fire today….’
If you think I’m making a fuss about nothing check out some of the following programme cast lists. Firstly the popular BBC series New Tricks about a collection of ex-cops solving long-standing crimes. It features Amanda Redman, Dennis Waterman, James Bolam and Alun Armstrong with guests like June Whitfield, Peter Sallis, Eric Sykes, Timothy West, Frances de la Tour, Sylvia Sims, Claire Bloom, Roy Hudd etc etc. If you added up the TV appearances from that lot it would probably total more than a few thousand. It’s not just the tiredness of the casting, it’s the fact that I cannot imagine former Likely Lad James Bolam as a copper, can you? Nor Amanda Redman.
What about the period drama Cranford. Spot the new talent amongst the cast line-up of Dame Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Francesca Annis, Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon. Brilliant actors all but haven’t we seen all of them dozens of times in other roles on our small screens? More evidence? Well what about a new drama series on TV about life in the Home Guard called Joe Maddison’s War. It features three principal actors; Kevin Whatley, Robson Green and Derek Jacobi. Sigh. If that’s not safe formulaic casting I don’t know what is. Finally what about a series like Kingdom about a Norfolk solicitor (it sounds as dull as fenwater but I’ve never seen it so couldn’t say). It stars Stephen Fry – ok he’s a big name and a coup for the programme but he is supported by the likes of Celia Imrie, Hermione Norris, Tony Slattery, John Thomson, Jack Dee, Sandy Toksvig, Peter Sallis (again) and June Whitfield (again, again). I must have been watching June Whitfield do her thing on my TV screen for over 40 years and without wishing to sound unkind, I don’t think she brings much insight to a role these days.
Doesn’t anybody else feel short-changed by this sort of casting? More than half the cast of Kingdom come from the comedy circuit, the new darling of the television commissioning department. It can only be a matter of time before Malcolm McIntyre plays Adolf Hitler in a new small screen interpretation of the Fuhrer’s life – From the Apollocaust.
As long as they don’t have Denise Welch as Eva Braun….