Five Takeaways From the Edinburgh TV Festival: BBC Debates, Amazon's Arrival and a Reality Check for 'Homeland'

Armando Iannucci - H 2015
AP Images

Armando Iannucci - H 2015

Armando Iannucci was arguably the main star at this year's TV jamboree, although it was - inevitably - the BBC that was the overwhelming central topic for debate.

The Edinburgh International Television Festival drew to a close on Friday after three days of lively debate that ventured well beyond the realm of broadcasting executives and into current affairs (well, in the U.K.). Among the high-profile guests from  both sides of the Atlantic were Martin Freeman, Armando Iannucci, Rich Ross, Danny Cohen, David Nevins and Paul Buccieri. But despite the names in attendance, there was only ever going to be one central theme. Here are five takeaways from the 40th edition of the annual TV shindig.

The BBC was always going to be at the center of this year's conversation
Coming just months after the U.K. government saddled the broadcaster with what will eventually become $1.2 billion of added costs (20 percent of its revenues), while also launching a review into its scope and size, the BBC was never going to be anywhere other than at heart of most discussions this year. Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s keynote speech was a rallying cry in defense of the BBC, slamming the government for only speaking to executives rather than creative in its analysis of the broadcaster, and suggesting that it was being asked to consider “assisted suicide.” Elsewhere, there was widespread support from almost all areas of the industry, and rumors emerged from the opening night dinner that The Great British Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins spent much of the evening in a verbal spat with the British government minister behind much of the debate.

The festival's BBC coverage could, maybe, have a positive effect
British culture secretary John Whittingdale, seen as one of the main architects of the government’s recent moves against the BBC, was – perhaps bravely – among the high-profile festival attendees. In an opening day session, he denied that there were any ideological motives behind the move and rejected the notion – strongly implied by Iannucci – that Rupert Murdoch had negotiated the deal with the government. Following the keynote, he even invited Iannucci to “come and have a chat,” although the comic said he didn’t want to be the “token creative” on the panel deciding the BBC’s fate.

Amazon was the noisiest new attendee
Having recently snapped up the U.K. hottest – and most divisive – TV property in former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, Amazon Studios made its debut Edinburgh performance in a session brimming with confidence. Head Roy Price introduced its growing slate of productions – including new titles such as Man in the High Castle and Hand of God, which lead Ron Pearlman himself was on hand to discuss – while describing the pilot feedback process in which Amazon users get to ‘Watch. Rate. Review’ to choose which get made (he claimed 100,000s had voted for Man in the High Castle). Price also invited the Edinburgh audience to use the festival app to pick between two pilots, the Bryan Cranston-produced conman drama Sneaky Pete and Diego Luna-starring steamy period piece Casanova. Sneaky Pete won the audience vote, although Price admitted that neither had yet been greenlit. “If we ran a restaurant and we were thinking of putting chili on the menu, we’d make it a special first and see if people bought it,” he said of Amazon’s feedback approach. “It’s great. I think everyone should do it.”

There were new show announcements aplenty
As per usual, the festival saw a raft of new commissions across most of the major networks in attendance. Among the BBC’s pickups were the four-part Motown musical Stop! In The Name of Love!, a new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies and an adaption of China Mielville’s fantasy novel The City And The City. Channel 4, meanwhile, unveiled dark comedy Flowers starring Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman, and greenlit factual series Walking the Himalayas from October Films. Of the event’s U.S. guests, Discovery’s Rich Ross announced new feature doc Sherpa about the ethnic Nepalese group who live and work on the slopes of Everest.

Homeland is getting real(ish)
During the session with Showtime’s David Nevins, the audience was treated to the first glimpse of the Homeland season 5 trailer. Having long since ditched the original Gideon Raff storyline, Claire Danes' Carrie is now doing her anti-terrorism thing over in Berlin working for a billionaire rather than the CIA. But this time, current affairs are taking a central role in the plot, with Nevins saying that a "little bit of ISIS," Vladimir Putin and a “Snowden-style hack” were also involved. “It’s in Europe this time, we’ve only been dealing in the Muslim world so far,” said.