Stephen Fry blasts British TV for 'infantilism'

BAFTA speech calls for smarter adult series, higher profile

LONDON -- Actor, comedian and technogeek Stephen Fry has called on British broadcasters to shift to a new commissioning model, which he claims will broaden the revenue base for British programming and protect the production sector.

Delivering the prestigious annual BAFTA television lecture, the host of "QI" said broadcasters should move to a scheme that saw them take a share of overseas sales revenues, or risk seeing parts of the independent production sector collapse.

The move would benefit a raft of smaller independent producers who were "hanging on by their fingernails," Fry said, and give British television a higher global profile.

While such production behemoths as Fremantle, BBC Worldwide, ITV Global and All3Media have successfully broken into the international market with a host of formats such as "Dancing with the Stars" and "X Factor," many smaller companies are living from hand to mouth trying to win domestic commissions.

Under the existing relationship between independent producers and broadcasters like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, indies are paid for the U.K. transmission rights and use revenue from international rights to attempt to pull in a profit.

The flaw in this approach, Fry said, is that British broadcasters tend to opt for shows with domestic resonance, and have no interest in how a show could play outside the U.K..

"This current model means that the broadcasters, the BBC and the ITV, have no stake in making films, dramas, documentaries or features of international appeal while at the same time the independents who depend upon them have a stake in little else," Fry told an audience of TV executives.

"The result is dramas and documentaries that have one foot planted in resolutely British soil with the other wobbling and hopping and pointing its toes hopefully in the direction of the world ... and indies that are just one commission away from insolvency."

Fry also hit out at broadcasters for what he described as "infantilism," and said broadcasters had stopped making programs for intelligent adults.

"Infantilism is the problem. It's just shocking. The only dramas the BBC will shout about are "Doctor Who" and "Merlin." They are wonderful programs, don't get me wrong, but they are not for adults."

He exhorted the likes of the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV to remember their core purpose.

"I'm not saying TV should be pompous and academic, but it should surprise and astonish and say there's a world outside we know nothing of."
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