Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Observer Q & A with the TVC

Journalist James Silver (left) probing the anonymous blogger. Picture courtesy of Rex features.

The Observer: Why did you start writing the blog..? Was there a particular moment or incident..? Was it general exasperation? Describe the origins, where the idea first struck?

TVC (puffing on cigar): I started to get increasingly frustrated and annoyed by the state of TV and some of the attitudes of execs and channel controllers to ordinary programme makers. I started thinking about how many ego maniacs run the industry and yet are completely unaccountable for their actions. Satire was the best way of bringing to light some of these personalities, their monstrous working practices and apathy for the ordinary viewer on the street.

The industry was lacking any kind of satirical comment, especially about the mercurial way channels are run and the dirty habits of how commissioning editors treat their producers. I’ve always enjoyed the irony of how TV channels are obsessed with chasing youth and yet they are mostly all run by middle class, middle of the road, middle aged white men. This inspired me to create the ultimate character who is obsessed with youth, and yet has no clue what the kids really want.

I remember sitting through a Channel 4 briefing when Hamish Mykura said he wanted more programmes that felt like "scaling the north face of the Eiger". Anyone who is seduced by jargon like this is in danger of disappearing up their own arse. Jana Bennett is a prime example of this awful Harvard business school-approach to talking about and making tv, and it is something we should try and resist. And so the concept for 'itchy reality' was born. So, indirectly, we can all be thankful for commissioning editor bollocks speak which has been a big inspiration for my writing.

The blog never intended to create such a fuss, it was merely supposed to be a playful 'poke in the eye' to some of the industry's big self-obsessed egos and a way for me to vent my spleen after a bad day at the office. I would highly recommend starting a fake blog for anyone who wants to engage in a cathartic up yours to their own industry. As long as you can keep your identity hidden, of course.

The Observer: What are you trying to achieve with it...? it strikes me as far more than that just a funny read/office entertainment? Is the aim for it to become, in a wonderful hall of mirrors type way, a Larry Sanders style sitcom..? Is it all one big pitch for a show!?

TVC: Well it's certainly not a pitch for a TV show. I'm not self promoting or trying to make a name for myself. To be honest, the blog just evolved over the first 6 weeks and grew organically. Writing the blog is a very 21st century way of communicating directly with my peers without the meddling influence of publishers, editors or channel execs telling you what to do and how to do it. It has been a cathartic and liberating experience.

The Observer: Why are you calling it a day?

TVC: I've been writing this now for 6 months straight updating it virtually on a daily basis which is quite a hefty amount of time and energy writing about the manic world of television.

Not to mention keeping my identity a secret which is almost a full time job in itself. I have lost count of the times my colleagues have asked me who i think is behind the blog and keeping things hidden is quite a stressful burden to carry.

I feel the time is right to take a rest, park the character of 'TVC' and his world for the time being and go back under the radar until it’s time to re-ignite things next year. There’s still a few more surprises left in store for 2008 and beyond.

The Observer: What is it about the TV industry that is so ripe for satire right now?

TVC: I started the blog in April 2007 just before the fakery scandal and crisis in viewer trust broke; little did I know the blog would become a fantastic off-the-record news source for what was happening inside White City at the time. I certainly didn’t join the bandwagon of self-flagellation going on at the BBC or use this blog as an excuse to attack Mark Thompson. I’m not a bitter disgruntled programme maker. I think history will remember Thompson as someone who made the right choices, ultimately. Job cuts are hard but so is working in an overstaffed bureaucratic-heavy organisation where lifers work with impunity no matter how useful their job role.

At the time when i started the blog it felt like no-one was pointing out how overblown, melodramatic and, frankly, ridiculous the TV industry can be or the nitty gritty of how programme makers are put under tremendous pressure to create 'narrative jeopardy' where no jeopardy exists to begin with.

If you'd have come to me 6 months ago and said that Stephen Lambert would one day be out of a job because he sexed up a trailer for a fly-on-the-wall film about the queen I wouldn't have been at all shocked or surprised. My early postings about Lambert showed him to be no longer interested in making programmes for the youth channel and snubbing TVC regularly for the warm bosom of Peter Fincham's higher profile channel. It's very easy to see how this arrogance led to the Crowngate scandal.

The Observer: The world you describe is like a seething basket of vipers. Is it as bad as the way you portray it?

TVC: There are things I've witnessed and wanted to write about but have resisted because it would have compromised me and led to my identity being outed. TV is such a bizarre, neurotic and schizophrenic place to work. It often rewards people whose erratic behaviour and bullying attitudes just wouldn't be tolerated in any other working environment.

The Observer: Your depiction of the meetings, empires, petty behaviour at the BBC is particularly sharp - instantly recognisable for anyone who has worked there - ie VEPVMC in your latest post (i) surely you must have worked at the corp at some point, perhaps you are there now? (ii) what is it about the BBC which so intrigues you as a writer?

TVC: I have worked at the BBC before, but the truth is that I've not had the type of top-level access that I fictionalise in my blog. I don't go to lunch with Mark Thompson or Jana Bennett. It's very much written from an outsider looking in and yet some of the scenarios I write about do obviously happen. When the queen stuff exploded, for example, I wrote a post about Fincham and Lambert waiting to be dressed down by Jana Bennett as 'naughty boys waiting to see the headmistress'. A day later and the media guardian reported it happening exactly like that. Everyone assumed Jana had exploded and she was quite annoyed by this suggestion when questioned at Edinburgh.

The BBC is a bit like a posh public school, anachronistic and old fashioned at times, brilliant and inspired at others. It always amazes me how a company with a guaranteed income of £3billion can be run in such a chaotic fashion. We all fund the BBC so we should care about who runs it and how they go about making programmes, much more so than ITV or Channel 4.

The Observer: Why did you pick Danny Cohen as a (semi-fictionalised) subject..?

TVC: I don't know the guy personally and I have drawn inspiration for the character of ‘TVC’ from lots of TV executives in the industry. I've got nothing personal against Cohen at all and I’d be very surprised if he had taken any of it very seriously.

The Observer: Some have criticised you for anti-semitism. How do you answer that? Why have chosen to make this character Jewish? Would you, as [Stuart Murphy] said, have made such a big deal of his skin colour..?

TVC: I'm a Jew myself so calling me anti-semitic is puzzling, and it strikes me that this is simply the only way that my detractors can have a dig at what I'm doing. If i was Sanjeev Bhaskar I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to write about an Asian channel controller.

I write from the same school of playful self-parody that Larry Sanders or Mel Brooks do. The fact that TVC is Jewish is a very minor part of his character, which is evident by how little his religion has featured in the 240-odd posts I have written.

The Observer: Similarly: How do you answer complaints that it's "bullying" (Stuart Murphy said that), "spiteful and at times downright nasty" (Owen Gibson, Guardian journalist)?

TVC: It surprises me when journalists or former channel controllers think the blog is bullying or nasty. The loyal readers who work lower down the TV food chain have never accused it of these things. It’s the same as saying that the 'Vicar of St Albans' in Private Eye was "spiteful" towards Blair and The Thick Of It was “nasty” towards Alistair Campbell. I suppose some people are too close to what I write about to understand the subtle nature of the satire.

The Observer: Why the anonymity? Would it really be career-ending, or might you not end up lauded as someone who exposed the industry for what it can be, at its shallow sharkpool worst?

TVC: I've heard that very high-powered people in the industry (some of whom feature on the blog) have not seen the funny side to what I'm doing at all. Television is a very small world run as an exclusive club and doors would certainly shut in my face after the storm I've caused. I have a successful career which I cannot risk jeopardising.

The Observer: There are those who say, so many details are spot-on that you have access to DC's diary. Can you scotch some rumours? Are you James Herring? Steven D. Wright? Are you two people?

TVC: Who I am is not important. What is more important is who I'm writing this blog for. I'm writing it for the footsoldiers of the TV industry who have no public voice, who are expected to lie to contributors, visit sink estates and persuade single mums to sell their soul, sign away their European working time directive on working hours, have no job security, slog their guts out for months on end without holiday pay and then see people like the fictional ‘TVC’ steal their ideas and take all the glory. If you look back at the over-stressed, torn-to-pieces P/D in my 'secrets of editing' post, that's who the blog is written for.

The Observer: So who are you..?! Do you work in the indy sector, tell us that much?

TVC: I am an established programme maker who has won awards and achieved critical acclaim. I love modern TV and formats, I am not some old school disgruntled programme maker with an axe to grind. I simply wish the BBC, Channel 4 and other channels were more honest about how the industry really works.

The Observer: What kind of feedback have you been getting from industry insiders? Any angry emails? Have you heard from industry bosses?

TVC: If you'd have told me that over 200,000 people would end up reading the blog I'd never have believed you. I’ve had hits from all over the world, from the Disney studio lot in Hollywood to Dominos Pizza headquarters in New York to the Houses of Parliament. The themes I address obviously resonate with a wider audience other than just the media classes.

It always amused me that lonely perverts who googled ‘sex & animals’ would regularly come across a post I wrote about a fictional animal therapy TV format from Ricochet (makers of It’s Me or the Dog) and gain this unexpected insight into the world of TV!

The level of support from well known industry figures has been surprising. I have received words of encouragement and tip-offs from indie bosses, former channel controllers, commissioning editors, producers and lots of anonymous insiders. I think the worst email I ever got was from Daisy Goodwin, who simply said: "take me off your email list". One big player - who I would never dream of naming - said the blog was "the highlight of my day" and that I was "nothing short of a phenomenon, darling".

I think that's why i was always a bit surprised when the press would use words like "despicable" or "disgusting" or "spiteful" ... That certainly wasn't the kind of feedback I was getting on a daily basis from the industry.


English Dave said...

You'll be missed. Great stuff while it lasted though.

e j thribb said...

So farewell then
and goodbye itchy reality.

Now it's back to
scratchy banality.

Anonymous said...

Farewell, and thanks for sticking it to the man on behalf of 'over stressed and torn to pieces P/D's' everywhere. Its nice to know we are not alone.

Anonymous said...

Nooo! Say it's not so TVC!

What about "Flashblob, The Abortion"?

This will now leave quite a hole in my day.

Thanks so much for being honest about the PD's you've shit on,

the Researchers who have been booked to your schedule, and then stood down on 2 days notice ("Just get some more"),

the contributors on whose face you spunk when asked to sign a release with an innocuous ("working title") at the top of the form

the ludicrous allusions you and your colleagues vomit at each other in public in the vain attempt to gain column inches and moody black and white photos in Broadcast Magazine,

the galleries you've sat in and barked at without having the grace a.) introduce yourself to the crew or b) admit you have a fucking clue let alone experience of such an environment

and so on.

I don't know who you are, but I have worked for you so many times for too many broadcasters.

God bless you TVC for getting me through this. I'll keep hitting F5 in the hope that some day you'll return.

I'll just have to go back to crawling up arseholes for a living now.

Anonymous said...

You'll be sadly missed - it's been so good to know that 'over stressed and torn to pieces P/D's' like me and my colleagues have a champion. I've laughed like a drain since you came on the scene. You rock, TVC!

Danny Cohen said...

There's only one TVC and that's me. No fuck off back to mediocrity you feckless twerp.

There can only be one.

And that's me...

The Real TVC.

Anonymous said...

Oh NO! I thought it was a joke.. am gutted you're stopping when there's still plenty more humour to be had.... please just let it be a sabbatical (she says hopefully!?!)

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for bringing loads of laughs to the morning.

There is an important message here that the senior execs at the BBC must see. Those of us in television want to make good programmes, and we want your help to do it. Throwing buzz words around does not help. Commissioning conference jollies out-of-town does not help. Building relationships DOES.

So get out of the sixth floor and visit your producers, your researchers, your content providers in the indie sector. For goodness sake, do it now. The world is moving on, and it is a crying shame to see the BBC suffocate in its own pit of business-speak, inefficiency and mediocre content.

To the writer(s) of this blog, you've given us a voice and hope that somebody understands. We all hope that sooner rather than later the real you takes a senior position within the Corporation and brings about change. Goodness only knows it needs it. And now.

Anonymous said...

So what next for you TVC? The book? The film? The musical?

Anonymous said...

There will be less laughter in my day without you TVC...though too much of what you wrote about was so very scarily familiar. Hope you'll be back - power to the (little) people!

Anonymous said...

TVC say it ain't true !! - your blog was the highlight of my day - i know - sad but true! so long and long may you prosper.

Anonymous said...

Your interview in the Observer is extraordinary.

You claim to have acted out of a sense of moral outrage yet you've spent the last few months being a viscious bully and a coward.

It is strange behaviour from someone who claims to care about standards and morality.

Anonymous said...

You don't even know the bloke you've been laying in to all of these months?

You're an even bigger cunt than I thought you were.

Spango said...

all the naysayers can fuck themselves. the TVC blog was long overdue - and look how timely too. satire is born of decadence - and TV has become utterly decadent. all those egomanaic channel controllers who blame 'the shift to multichannel' as the cause of their diminishing ratings want to take a good long hard look at themselves. they've been so busy swapping jobs and twatting about at Century talking about themselves that they've forgotten how to commission great shows. if Gok Wan and Gordon Ramsay can still score massive ratings then the audience clearly isn't abandoning the terrestrials, they're just bored of what's on at the other times. get back in touch with your viewers and stop pissing all us hard working producers off.

Anonymous said...

Any of us in the industry know that TVC and Mr Cohen are not the same thing. He's not being "layed into". TVC is a hideous, so-near-the-mark-it's-almost-not-funny example of the sort of headspinning rubbish dolled out by senior television executive at the BBC.

The truth is they're all being layed into - and so they bloody well should be.

Anonymous said...

As a PD working all the hours god (Robert Thirkell) sends, on increasingly small budgets, with increasingly higher demands, from increasingly stressed execs pandering to the increasingly arbitrary whims of commissioners to produce tele for a decreasing audience your words have been a joy….

Anonymous said...

Your blog should be required reading on all Media Studies courses. Perhaps then the kidz will realise that telly ain't all that it's cracked up to be.

God bless you TVC. Come back soon and shine a light onto the shite I (and others) have to deal with day-in day-out in our efforts to make good TV.

And to the critics... go fuck yourselves, you self important & self obsessed bunch of white city exec wankers.

Anonymous said...

Thankn you, thank you, thank you... I don;t work in programme making, but I work in 'The Corporation' and, by God, have I seen TV exec types around... enough to make me vomit non-stop for the rest of my life... Idiots who hide behind a computer in the 'Business Supoort' areas of the business... who think themselves important when all they do is to look down and fuck up the arse the most hard-working people on Earth, people who genuinely care about the output and quality of their work, people who do it for next to nothing... who stick to a dreary , boring job they hate and kiss arse every waking (and sleeping)minute of their lifes just so they can go to the Xmas party again (did i say Christmas? Oh, no , 'Vision')
Plase carry on with it- we need it badly- a certian type of TG exectuive or Middle manager will see him/herself exposed...

Thank you