Is there Value in Television?

Dr Elke Weissmann

On the 27 September, we celebrated the Critical Awards in Television for the first time. The awards are part of larger attempts by researchers and scholars in television to question what we accept as ‘good’ when we talk about television.

The awards – which are a collaboration between the EHU Television Studies Research Group of the Department of Creative Arts, the Institute for Social Responsibility, Critical Studies in Television, the Production Guild and Love Wavertree – aim to take the debate about ‘quality’ beyond the scholarly community and make the wider audience aware of questions of ‘value’.

What do we value when it comes to television?

We know we should all watch the newest iteration of expensive British or American drama, but we would rather curl up in front of the familiarity of our favourite soap.

We know that the news are good for us because they help us in our political decision making, but when it’s all bad news, some of us would rather turn to the comfort of home and garden making and other ‘lifestyle’ programming.

In the year of Covid, the Awards focused on TV that is often overlooked.

The award for comfort TV was voted on by the public. The winner, was Swan Film and Grayson’s Art Club (Channel 4, since 2020).

Similarly, we felt we should celebrate writing and production designing that cleverly used the restrictions of Covid to enhance its drama. There were only two contenders in the end: Keeping Faith (S4C, BBC, 2017-2021) which used the social distancing measures to really emphasise the emotional distances between the characters and Staged (BBC, 2020-2021) which was all about the pandemic and how it affected the two characters, Michael Sheen and David Tennant, who played themselves.  Here, Infinity Hill won with Staged.

However, this year, we placed the biggest importance on the work of keeping staff and crew safe which is part of the job of the production manager. Production managers are highly skilled and highly creative (as we saw in particular this year), but its not a job that a student dreams of when they think of the glamour of television. This is why we decided to celebrate it twice: by giving an award to those professionals who kept television productions going when everything else stopped, and by celebrating the students who managed to produce work despite restrictions.

The winners for this category were Lime Pictures and Hollyoaks (Channel 4, since 1995) who not only performed regular Covid tests on staff, but also trained actors up to do their own make-up, developed strict non-contact protocols in prop and costume and reduced scenes to as minimal a crew as possible. But we also gave the award to Gardeners’ World (BBC, since 1968) which was similarly creative by involving presenters in filming, getting remote-controlled cameras and asking the public to participate in the creation of the programme.

But it was the students that blew us away with their creativity – making use of the Covid restrictions to come up with compelling television in the form of quiz shows, television drama, documentaries and avant-garde think pieces.

From our shortlist of eleven productions, it was Middlesex University, and Joseph Ferris and Isaac Pimm’s quiz show Percentage that took the winning price. As Lyndsay Duthie, the CEO of the Production Guild and judge of the student production award, put it, this was a highly professional and creative idea, extremely well executed.

Congratulations to all winners – and we will be back next year.

View videos of the awards and winners here.

Dr Elke Weissmann is Reader in Television and Film at Edge Hill University and lead curator of the Critical Television Awards.

Photos: Middlesex University students celebrating. EHU Vice-Chancellor John Cater. Prof Lyndsay Duthie, the Production Guild. Host and Edge Hill alumnus, Philip McGuiness.

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