“Hello, I’m the executive producer of a number of world-class interactive TV shows that have appeared over the past few years.
I’m speaking to you today, personally of course but also on behalf of my industry peers, to put the other side of a cause celebre that has received undue coverage in the media, most of it hopelessly biased. Reluctantly, it’s going to be on condition of anonymity as anything else – my solicitors tell me – would result in a public lynching.
Before you jump to any unwarranted conclusions about my culpability in the so-called “phone-in scandal”, let me put you right about a few popular misconceptions. Things aren’t what they seem.
We executive producers are far from the corrupt power brokers we are made out to be. And, as my witnesses, I call Michael Grade, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly. Michael has said that Ant and Dec knew nothing about the viewer deception problems on their Saturday Night Takeaway show, because the executive producer credit they rejoice in was there simply for “vanity”. How profoundly true that observation is, as I can attest from my personal experience. I, too, was unaware of the flagrant irregularities going on in my own shows and have often felt my power to influence the moral climate of television is overrated.
You see, and this is where I think Michael has been particularly insightful, it’s not really about a few dishonest or morally lax individuals (well, quite a few actually) ripping off gullible viewers with whatever TV phone-in, text or interactive voting opportunity happens to come along. No, this is a cultural issue which goes to the very heart of television today.
When we did all those things that people hurtfully describe as corrupt, we weren’t acting in our own selfish interests at all. We were simply taking steps to ensure that our viewers received television programmes of the highest quality, as we have always tried to do. After all, you can’t have any old straw-sucking yokel being selected to appear on screen through the fickle mechanism of an unmeritocratic phone-in quiz. Far better that hand-picked researchers be assigned the task of finding the most telegenic specimens, regardless of whether they are, in fact, participants in the aforesaid competition. Yet, listening to the subsequent outcry, anyone would think we had tried to rename the Blue Peter cat (now that really was iniquitous, but what else can you expect from the BBC these days?).
So in a wider sense, we weren’t deceiving viewers at all. Well all right, we were; but only technically. It was a pious fraud aimed at giving them what they wanted: better, more exciting programmes. And you know what? This was a victimless crime committed exclusively for the public good. So, I couldn’t agree more with Michael when he says we shouldn’t engage in a witch hunt and start firing people irresponsibly. It will only make matters worse. The past is the past, isn’t it – a bit like Vichy France, eh?
The trouble is people don’t understand all the positive things we did. What clinches it for me is the awful alternative that might have awaited commercial television had we not siphoned off those millions of pounds from viewers (none of which, by the way, went into the pockets of individual executive producers).
As you’re aware, commercial television is on its uppers. The time when we could rely upon advertisers to bring in the bacon has, alas, long since passed away. It brings tears to my eyes remembering how eagerly they used to queue up to spend all their money with us. If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have been able to sell any of their wretched products and services, would they? And the best part was, when we underperformed and ratings went down, they had to pay even more. Ah, the poetry of it. I never did grasp how the economics worked. ‘Media inflation’ the sales people used to call it, with a sly smile.
Then along came the internet; spoiled the party for all of us by overloading naive advertisers with choice. The coup de grace was ‘CRR’ or ‘CCR’ or ‘RCR’ or something; it gave advertisers the delusional idea they were in control and could knock the price down. Result: a frenzied search for alternative revenue streams to prop up our sagging programmes budgets.
I like to think that we producers, in our humble way, have been quite creative here; we’ve done our bit you might say. But nothing’s for ever. It had all been going swimmingly for three or four years when Icstis (sounds like a nasty disease; no wonder the new bloke running it wants to change the name) decides to stick its oar in and ponces about with Richard and Judy. Bedlam breaks out. Fingers wag. Producers get the third degree. Talk about ingratitude.
Of course, Michael’s right when he says we’ve got to change. Zero tolerance from now on. Anyone found with their trousers down gets sacked. They’d deserve to be: getting found out at this stage would be pure stupidity; a bit like admitting at a dinner party you’d just taken out a £1m Northern Rock mortgage.
Me? I’m off to the Maldives for a few weeks’ R&R to mull the implications of this ITV fine on my programme budget. Ta Ra.“
Stuart Smith, Editor