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As many might have predicted, Armando Iannucci, the British comic behind the Emmy-winning Veep, wasted no time during his keynote MacTaggart lecture on the first day of the Edinburgh International TV Festival to criticize the recent attacks against the BBC.
The broadcaster has recently been hit with major financial cuts — which will reach $1.2 billion, or 20 percent of its overall income in 2020 — by the U.K. government, while at the same time facing critical assaults over its scope and size.
Iannucci, who began his career at the BBC and went on to create one of its most recent comedy hits in The Thick of It, offered a rallying cry in defense of the broadcaster — and TV creativity in general — during a 45 minute speech that was laden with his trademark brand of wit and satire.
He slammed the “panel of experts” who had been asked by the government to analyze the BBC and its role.
“I see executives, media owners, industry gurus, all talented people; but not a single person who’s made a classic and enduring television show, not a presenter, a writer, director or creative producer,” he said.
“Just people from the executive branch of television. It’s like a car company was looking into what car it should make next, but only spoke to managers and not to any of the engineers. Or drivers.”
He urged the British government to speak to the creatives when deciding the fate of the BBC, and looked to the U.S. as an example.
“In America, the key production personnel, the writers, the First AD, senior researchers, are credited as producers. They’re rewarded for their key creative input,” he said.
“On my HBO show Veep, which we shot in Baltimore, we had a set visit from the state Governor, who came to thank us for the work we were bringing to Maryland. Our true, essential, role in the business of making good television was acknowledged.”
In its criticism of the BBC, which several have argued is ideological, the British government has focused on its internet activity, suggesting that is beyond the remit for a public broadcaster. This was something that Iannucci also took aim at.
“It would make sense if the BBC’s web presence was pointless and amateurish. But in fact it’s in the top 100 websites in the world, currently around 60th I think, and the only British-owned one in that list,” he said.
“It makes no economic or cultural sense to tell this country’s best online media presence, one that serves the public freely, that projects our cultural impact globally, to make itself a little bit worse. We deserve to be at the top of the table, but instead, we’re being told to break our table up for firewood.”
Iannucci argued that strong, highly respected channels such as the BBC were actually now more important than ever in an age where more and more content was being produced, and more companies pouring money into it.
“That’s the good news for creative. Everyone wants to make television. The bad news is, everyone wants to make television. Cheaper, user-friendly technology means we’re living in both the Golden Age of TV, and a global bucket of swill. For every Sherlock and Breaking Bad, there’s a billion more people filming their brother squirt baked beans from his nose and anus.”
The Edinburgh International Television Festival runs until August 28.
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