Live Chat with BBC Three’s Stuart Murphy

Live Chat with
BBC Three’s Stuart Murphy
CoverPosted: February 4th, 2003.

On Monday February 3rd, 2003, the controller of BBC Choice, and soon to becomealso the BBC Three controller, Stuart Murphy (right), indulged in whatwas meant to be a live chat on the Guardian’s website, challenging him abouthis plans for the future.

Sadly, it just turned into a dire PR campaign and a waste of two hours, as heignored the pertinent questions and just answered the easy ones. What does heget paid for?

I’ll list the questions which DID get answers first, and then the ones he failedto answer last. All of it is reprinted without permission, but I feel it isimportant and if I just provided a link back to the Guardian’s website, thatwould eventually cease to exist.

Question 1:

  • Ernie18:
      Dear Mr Murphy

      You say to expect the unexpected on BBC 3. That sounds great, but what aboutthe really unexpected – a few shows hosted by new presenters instead of thesame old ones?

      Even more unexpected would be you giving me the chance to be one of them. Giveme a try – comedy and randomness a speciality. Take a chance.

  • Stuart Murphy:
      Hi. Stuart here. Sorry I am late. I’ll do my best to get through as many questions as possible.

      Ernie. We are using loads of new presenters to be honest – though there areestablished ones as well. I didn’t want to have a channel of just new presentersor just established faces – it was important that new people can do ambitiousthings and “big” people like Johnny Vaughan, Dermot O Leary and Dom Joly getto do new things. In Dreamspaces we’ve signed up David Adaje, a British blackarchitect who hasn’t presented before. And yep, I’m more than happy to look atshowreels of people who are new to TV, so if you want to send anything in, do.

Question 2:

  • Ed Wheeler Webmaster The UK Campaign for LOGO FREE TV:
      Have you ever, even as a student, not paid for a television licence?
  • Stuart Murphy:
      Always paid for one. But I have spent a long spell in prison for anotheroffence. This is a joke.

Question 3:

  • cgknight1:
      I don’t have a digital box and I have two questions?

    • 1) Am I paying for a service I can’t get?
    • 2) If the viewing figures are of the same level as BBC 4, could youpop the tapes in the post? (I understand that it would be cheaper thatbroadcasting in that case)
  • Stuart Murphy:
      Your licence fee covers BBC THREE, all BBC radio stations, BBC online and otherBBC channels. For every hour of BBC output, there are another 35 hours of BBCoutput broadcasting simultaneously, so you get a lot for your licence. You’dbe surperhuman if you loved everything the BBC did, but hopefully you likeenough of the stuff to feel it is justified.

      In the same way that you need a radio to listen to the BBC’s radio services, youneed a digital box to watch BBC digital services.

      The government have said they will turn off the analogue signal eventually, soit’s important the BBC drives people to digital TV. BBC THREE is part of this.The best of BBC THREE will be in a BBC THREE zone on BBC ONE for 3 weeks atlaunch and also two nights a week 52 weeks a year so people can still see someBBC THREE output even if they don’t want to get a set top box.

      The issue about viewing figures is a very small cyclical debate. If a BBCchannel rates brilliantly it tends to get criticised for being too populist;if it rates badly it tends to get criticised for not being populist enough. AllI’d say is that BBC THREE is not designed to rate brilliantly – new shows,with unknown talent and trying to take creative risks is a much harder thingto get ratings for.

Question 4:

  • David:
      I have some ideas for BBC Three programmes but am concerned submitting them tothe usual BBC genre departments will knock the ‘risk’ out of the ideas. Do yousometimes welcome brief programme pitches directly in the first instance?

      I am an experienced format freelancer, including several high-profile BBCcredits.

  • Stuart Murphy:
      THREE commissions in exactly the same way as ONE, TWO and FOUR, so it makessense to send ideas to the genres first of all. I’d be really surprised if thegenres were to knock out the risk bit of an idea – I’ve found that in myexperience they’ve pushed the boundaries and suggested ways to develop ideaswhich add to their distinctiveness, not take away from them.

      Burn It – alaunch drama we’re doing from Red Productions – was discussed at lengthbetween myself and the genre, the latter being very very keen to make it morecreative and different.

Question 5:

  • Richard Matthews:
      Stuart, i was listening to Dom Joly on Jonathan Ross’ Radio 2 show on Saturday &he was saying he’d actually recorded his BBC3 chatshow some time ago – I guessfor the planned launch last year that got delayed. Is Dom now working on otherstuff for you?
  • Stuart Murphy:
      I am obsessed with Dom – he is such an imaginitive broadcaster, and smart withit. His series is great – it’s odd (as he was saying on Jonathan Ross’ Show)and it sort of threw me the first time I saw a rough cut because I couldn’tquite work it out, but by the end of the first half hour I was totally sold.

      We’ve re-commissioned a second series already and I’m really looking forwardto hearing what everyone thinks of it.

  • DVDfever Dom adds:
      I then asked:

      When was the Dom Joly show recorded, though, and how exactly do you “re-commissiona second series”?

      How different is it from V Graham Norton, and how different is Burn It fromall the other 20-something relationship dramas?”

      He didn’t reply.

Question 6:

  • digress:
      How much of a surprise was it when Tessa Jowell knocked back your original proposal forBBC3? And how much of an improvement is the launch line up on that firstattempt?
  • Stuart Murphy:
      It was a real disappointment when Tessa Jowell turned down the originalsubmission – I was gutted, as were the rest of the team. As soon as we heardwe sat in my office (which was in Mortimer Street then) and started to draw uphow else BBC THREE could work.

      We also commissioned another massive piece of research on what the audience wantedfrom a BBC digital channel, so between the various bits of the BBC, the immediatechannel team and a mass of raw data we managed to put together something quitea lot different to the original (rejected) submission and also somethingdistinctive from other channels out there.

      I think it’s a huge improvement, but it’s also going to be an ongoing challengeto get it right. Doing Serious News for a younger audience is very tricky, asis doing programmes in an area like Education but I honestly feel that whatTHREE has got lined up in the coming year will try new things and – hopefully -will work. I don’t expect for a minute everyone to love it all the time, butI do hope people endorse the fact that it is bringing on new British talent,and creating new British shows.

Question 7:

  • foxtim:
      Stuart, is commissioning new shows based on old characters such as Swiss Toniand Paul Calf really so innovative? Is that not just playing safe? What areyou doing to promote new comedy talent?
  • Stuart Murphy:
      BBC THREE is doing a mix of shows, with new and established talent. Having aplace where Swiss Toni can do an entire series is great, and something I’mpleased about. There isn’t room to do a series like this on BBC ONE and BBC TWO,so I’m more than happy to commission a phenomenal talent like Charlie Higson -one of the foremost comedians of our age – to spin off one of the most lovedand amusing comedy characters around. Ditto Paul Calf and Steve Coogan. Ireally hope viewers love their series.

      What’s important about BBC THREE, though, is that we are trying new people out.In 3 Non Blondes we do a hidden camera comedy sketch show with 3 British blackfemale comedians, who are relatively new to TV. In the series “Resistance” wehave hired Mark Wooton who is in my view a real star for the future – to do abizarre twisted entertainment show with members of the public. And in”Monkeydust” we’ve used over 35 British animators to make a beautiful butrelentlessly dark satirical series which will transmit on launch night.

      For me it’s justified to use established talent when we push them to do newthings – combined with using new talent to do ambitious things. Very fewbroadcasters are in a position to do this.

Question 8:

  • Tom:
      How will the average BBC3 viewer differ from the average Sky One viewer?
  • Stuart Murphy:
      He or she won’t. They’ll come to BBC THREE for different things – Britishanimation, new talent, News in peak, science which doesn’t send you to sleep,new current affairs programmes which you really get into – but I’m certainother channels will continue to do well in their respective areas, whether itsin American shows or late night racy ones.

Question 9:

  • John Denton:
      BBC Choice/Three has already stated it wants to be different but in effect itmimics many of the other “Yoof” channels out there, including those you workedon from Flextech. How do you think you will be able to differentiate thechannel from the more commercial offerings (E4, SkyOne, Living) and how willthis reflect the government’s requirement for a more Public Service remit?

      How will your budget allow you to take real risks (with content and/ordelivery) and how do you foresee your work with BBC Three shaping themulti-channel landscape in the next few years?

  • Stuart Murphy:
      Blimey it’s like Prime Minister’s questions!

      Could I just answer one of those bits John.

      BBC THREE won’t at all mimic other channels. The whole point of it is that 80%of the channel is new and 90% is British/European. That very fact alone meansit is positioned a world away from the other channels out there inmultichannel. There are a whole set of other conditions which mean the channelwill be even more different – we have to cover Ethics for instance. No otherchannel is doing that at all, probably because it is an untried and testedarea for this audience.

      However, I think there are things we could try in that area which may beinteresting – especially considering the current world political climate.

      We’ve got a huge (50 hours a year) committment to Arts and Music, so willcover live performance with Dermot O Leary’s show called “Re:covered” as wellas looking at design in a series called Dreamspaces.

      As I have said loads of times to people, it won’t be easy to get right at all,but the channel has had a lot of brain power on it as so the BBC is giving itit’s best shot.

Question 10:

  • Alan Tanner, independent producer and BBC licence fee payer:
      Is it true that the BBC spent £100,000 or close to £100,000 to develop theonline game of Celebdaq and if so does it come out of your budget.

      How much did Celebdaq cost to deliver to BBC3?

  • Stuart Murphy:
      As a fellow licence fee payer (isn’t everyone?) it’s important to me BBC THREEdoesn’t squander any money, and Celebdaq is no exception. What’s also key isthat the BBC helps drive digital and online use, and with over 2 million hitsa week already Celebdaq is helping do its bit. Try it – it’s very addictiveand withouth sounding worthy here it will hopefully show people about how touse the stock exchange.

      I’m chuffed that Celebdaq has come out of an online game – some commentatorshave said in the past that online and digital shows can never break throughand Celebdaq has hopefully already shown that this is not the case.

Question 11:

  • wendi35:
      Are you disappointed that you’ve only got two weeks of Eastenders ahead of BBC1?And do you understand the complaints of fans who haven’t got digital TV andwill feel left out?
  • Stuart Murphy:
      I’m really pleased to have Eastenders even though it’s only for a two weekpremiere – it’s BBC ONE’s flagship show which we know a BBC Choice audiencelike as well (our narrative repeat at 10pm every night does really well for us).We’ll use the inheritance from the premiere to build new BBC THREE shows.

      I do appreciate that people without digital TV who are into Eastenders mayfeel left out but they can still get it on BBC ONE at the usual time. As it’sonly for two weeks, I hope they will appreciate that the BBC have a commitmentto drive digital take up and will not be too upset. Maybe it will mean somepeople tune into BBC THREE who might not have thought of doing so before.

Question 12:

  • anivadd:
      In an ideal world, what shows would you like to poach from other channels?And what programmes do you watch when you’re ‘off duty’?
  • Stuart Murphy:
      I don’t know if there’s anything I would like to poach, and I know that probablysounds cheesy but there isn’t really. I am so focussed and “in the zone” abouttrying to commission new types of shows (only 10% of the channel is allowed tobe repeats) that whenever there has been the chance to poach a show, wehaven’t gone for it.

      I love a random collection of shows – think Huw Edwards is top, loved TheOffice, I find DIY SOS really funny (my mates find that a bit funny), loveThe Book Group, think Jonathan Ross is just brilliant – there’s loads of stuffI’m into. I am a bit of a Mike-the-TV kid to be honest – I can’t get enough.One of the great things about this job is being able to commission shows frompeople who I have wanted to work with for ages – like Charlie Higson, JohnnyVaughan, Dermot, Dom, Jullian Worricker…

Question 13:

  • Richard Griffiths:
      I was delighted when you started airing the quality US drama The Practice andran it until the end of series 2 on BBC Choice.

      Are you planning on bringing it back at some point? It has a very loyalfollowing over here and as I’m sure you know has won many awards in the US.

      You’d make a lot of people very happy if you brought it back and you’d becomesome sort of God if you bought David E Kelly’s Boston Public and ran that aswell.

      Given the current vogue over here for quality US dramas, it’s inexplicablethat these series are not being run – we’re probably the only major TV marketthat doesn’t show them.

  • Stuart Murphy:
      Unfortunately we won’t be running The Practice or Boston Public – we’ve got alimit on the amount of US output we can run (10% of our output max). We’ll runthe next series of 24 with each next episode running straight after BBC TWO’sepisode, and we’ll continue to run the next episodes of Taken straight afterBBC TWO. We’ve got to be very picky about what we buy and run – to be honestbecuase most of BBC THREE will be British output, you’ll probably find USoutput like this on the other channels so I’d drop them a note.

      I’ve got to go now, but thanks for messaging in. I really hope people like BBCTHREE – tune in and make your own mind up, and by all means let me know whatyou think. Starts this Sunday at 7pm, simulcast on BBC TWO.

And the questions he couldn’t be bothered to answer:

CoverQuestion 1:

  • CakeOrDeath:
      Please could you explain why BBC3 be DOGGED like BBC4 thereby making it virtuallyimpossible to enjoy the programming?

      For those unaware, DOGS are the intrusive logos that permanently ‘brand’ theBBC digital channels. The implication being that digital viewers are too stupidto realise what channel they are viewing even though all digital platformscome with a built-in viewing guide.

      The official word from the BBC is as follows:

        ‘The BBC, *in common with other broadcasters*, has adopted a policy of insertingChannel Identifiers in the top left- hand corner of the screen on its dedicateddigital channels. This is because, in the forthcoming competitive multi-channelenvironment, it was felt important to ensure that viewers could quicklyidentify they were watching BBC services.’

        I would like to ask Mr Murphy why the BBC must follow Sky in this way? Why doyou underestimate the ability of your viewers to use a TV guide? Please couldyou also explain it is not necessary to brand BBC1 and BBC2 in the same way?

Question 2:

      Dear Stuart,

      Hope the chickens are happy!

      That with £100M to spend, BBC THREE can not find programmes some people willwant to watch, is not in question.

      BBC CHOICE has had some great programmes and films. However sadly, BBC CHOICE’saddiction to on-screen graffiti has greatly spoilt the viewing enjoyment andsatisfaction of thousands of viewers, for a fact.

      24, Taken, Pulp Fiction, The Last Seduction, Platoon, The Practice, Hound ofthe Baskervilles and “NO LOGO” are just some of the great films and TVprogrammes that have suffered from the unnecessary visual disruption by BBCCHOICE’s unnecessary on-screen logo policies.

      The BBC CHOICE era has seen on-screen logos that have included the name of thechannel, the URL for, >–NEW–Recently, The Controller admitted to “underestimating the intelligence of theaudience”.

      Will BBC THREE please consider broadcasting TV programming without thesepatronising and annoying marketing and branding garbage on the programmecontent?

      Is The Controller aware that dis-satisfaction with BBC Digital is fuellingsome viewers strong opposition to the BBC Licence Fee, which has majorramifications for public service broadcasting and the entire TV industry.

      Can BBC THREE and BBC FOUR, be more like BBC ONE and BBC TWO and allow itselfto be without the annoyance of permanently on-screen branding?

Question 3:

  • islingtonian:
      Can you understand any of the reasons why some people do not buy a licence?

Question 4:

  • drella666:
      Stuart – is the name of your channel a tribute to the 1960s satire/sketch/discussionshow BBC3, on which Kenneth Tynan uttered his epochal “fuck”?

Question 5:

  • Mr. Perrin:
      Why not be bold and ask Bernie Eccelstone If BBC3 could have the digital/interactivebroadcasting rights for the 2004 F1 season.

      You have the technology in place. It IS the most advanced and slickest pieceof kit in the broadcasting world. It would be sign of increased value forlicense payers. It would suit your target market and be exclusive, hencedesirable. You can succeed where Sky has not.(due to bad marketing/timing/racing…whatever)

      Good luck Stuart. Please provide programmes that are worth watching, not justseeming to be trendy.

Question 6:

  • Dom Robinson. Editor,
      I agree with all the arguments raised by the others who have posted questionsonline, but if BBC3 is meant to be something new and different, then why don’tyou make it so.

      It’s either programmes which have spawned from others (Paul Calf, Swiss Toni),rip-offs of other chat shows (This Is Dom Joly = V Graham Norton) or a20-something relationship drama (Burn It = Secret Life Of Us, and many others?)

      Plus, I dread to think how much worse you can make the onscreen graffiti.We’ve already had banners across the screen and voice announcements DURING ’24’,but those blobs in the Preview look like they’re bound to come on duringprogrammes.

      To paraphrase the local newspaper editor from an episode of “People Like Us”,’You only get one chance in life to mess it up, and it looks like you’regrabbing it with both hands.’

Question 7:

  • Alan Potter:
      I work for an advertising agency and can see through all the shallow andspurious augments that are made for branding and we know it doesn’t work.Recently channel 5 re-launched as FIVE and at that, time decided to do sowithout on screen branding, and as a result raised its profile and status.Cannot BBC THREE do the same?

Question 8:

  • Stuart Green.:
      It would be great if you could re-run ‘The Larry Sanders Show’.

Question 9:

  • Phil, Battersea:
      I was a fan of UK Play/Play UK. Why do you think it didn’t work in the end?

Question 10:

  • Ruth Williams:
      Most succesful digital/multi channel services work because they are niche -viewers know what they’re going to get when they tune in – ie good new USshows on E4 or Sky One, for instance. From what i’ve read about BBC3, it’strying to be more of an old fashioned terrestrial channel, with a schedulethat covers all the main genres – news, factual, entertainment, arts etc. doyou think this model can work for a digital only channel?

Question 11:

      If it “won’t mimic other channels”, how come early today you wrote toAlan Potter saying about the DOG policy, “I sense it is the way the market isgoing.”

      Original Message:

      “Apologies for not replying sooner. It is so busy here, as we launch in a fewdays time.

      Could I reply on behalf of everyone you e mailed as your note directlyconcerns THREE.

      I want to keep the dogs on screen. As Personal Video Recorders take off (suchas TIVO and SKY PLUS) it is increasingly important that people know whichchannel a show has transmitted on. Lots of channel have on screen dogs, notjust BBC channels – I sense it is the way the market is going.

      I am genuinely sorry you find it very irritating, but I also hope you find thebroad range of BBC THREE’s output so exciting that you forget the dog is eventhere.”

Question 12:

  • Factotum:
      In terms of remit, how exactly will BBC3 differ from BBC Choice? Isn’t thisjust an expensive, licence-fee-funded, rebranding exercise?

Question 13:

  • Kev:
      Stuart, if you were to describe your channel as a car, what would it be?

Question 14:

  • FastEddie:
      While your ambition to show lots of new, original programmes is laudible, it’snot in the past proved very successful for non-terrestrial channels. Thebiggest multi channel audiences come from sport, movies, repeats of/spin offsfrom big terrestrial shows, & US imports such as Friends. BBC3’s remitprevents it doing a lot of these things. So where are your ratings going tocome from?

Question 15:

  • foxtim:
      Excellent celebdaq question (Q.10)…more to the point HOW can the BBC justifygiving out cash prizes (I think it’s £100 on the website) because Zoe Ball’smarriage has failed and Sadie Frost has post-natal depression?????

Question 16:

      Here’s a screen shotfrom BBC CHOICE’s “Which celeb couple will divorce next”.

      I think it is very bad taste to have these kinds of “sweep-stakes” on humanmisery and suffering.

Question 17:

  • Cierzo:
      Is this gonna be more Crap for the Heat readers, or can we expect this channelto be a bit more intelligent. Note that Ch4 have just extended the run ofThe Salon. Promise me that this kind of nonsense will never disgrace yourchannels.

      And ditch the DOGs. They suck.

Question 18:

  • nielsmos:
      Will the excellent That Gay Show be returning and, if so, will Kristian Digbyand Tom Ashton be again presenting it?

Question 19:

  • cybersquatter:
      How are you planning to make use of the domain name annexed the domain in 2000 but have yet to even put a placeholder on it.

Question 20:

  • DylanX:
      How will you ensure that the ideas you get aren’t mutilated and blandified bythe usual BBC format fiddlers? How many genuinely new shows will we see?

Question 21:

  • madeline27:
      What size of audience – either in terms of reach or ratings – are you lookingfor? Is there a target? If you don’t hit it will you resign? And if not, howwill the success of the channel be judged?

Question 22:

  • Gary:
      Isn’t the problem with launching a ‘younger’ BBC channel that all the ideasdate so quickly? along with those used to present..

      The Trail loop thats been running shows tired face after tired face ofLondon’s medja clique:

      Dom Jolly – Stale Poshboy, old hat Oh, a bit on the Appleton sisters (whichproducers friends are they?). Very 90’s That girl from elastica – how veryearly 90’s Fatboy slim??? the world has realised that queing for hours towatch 40 year old play other peoples music is sad. Dance is dead – why areyour programmes clinging to it like Lulu does to fame? Trevor Nelson????

      Where are the NEW young faces? The non-London dwellers?? Why is this TV for30 somethings clinging onto a culture that has moved on?

Question 23:

  • whirlpool:
      There have been rumours that you are going off to run E4, or work for Sky. Howlong do you envisage running BBC3?

Question 24:

  • JasonMarch:
      BBC Choice has the same problem that you seem to be about to suffer: Greatcontent that is spoiled by needless branding. I am not the only viewer thatwants to watch programs such as The Office, 24 and Taken but cannot because ofthe screen junk. Will you not consider offering your channel without a logo?I’m fairly certain your ratings would not suffer in the slightest.

Question 25:

  • CakeOrDeath:
      Please address the issue of DOGS and on-screen clutter. I am 21 years old. Iam part of your target market. I feel patronised by BBC THREE’s ‘yoof’marketing. None of the ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ shows you have listed appeal to me atall.

      I think the BBC underestimates its target market, for example At Uni myfriends and I prefer to discuss the ‘life of mammals’ over a morning coffeerather than Big Brother esq reality shows. In many ways I feel let down by theBBC. Can I also please point out that many Uni students (who make up yourtarget market) cannot afford freeview.

Question 26:

  • MikeShaw25:
      Will you be showing the 2nd series of Queer As Folk USA?

Question 27:

  • mansep:
      read about and seen bits of your new programmes – i hope the design/architectureseries works and look forward to little britain – but that’s about it. don’treally see the need to ressurect old comedy characters (think how bad it wouldbe if you’d done a new series with harry enfield’s loadsamoney character… paul calf and swiss toni aren’t that far off) – we need more new talent and innew formats (not more candid camera pranks!).

      also i feel that you are still underestimating the intelligence of youraudience. one of the most important lessons janet street-porter taught theindustry was not to patronise the ‘yoof’ market.

      i’d also like to see less focus on celebrities, this is not an area the bbcshould be exploiting as other channels do this excessively already.

Question 28:

  • KierenMcCarthy:
      Are you looking for talented young writers to send you comedy scripts forreview? If so, what’s the set-up? Who’s the person to send them to? Any otherinfo?

Question 29:

  • Stallic:
      With 6.8m DVD players sold in the UK (a quarter of UK households) why not havea dedicated review show for this popular format. There is a sorry attempt onBBC Four, but you don’t actually get a feel for the disc – just a lame filmreview which is no use.

      What you should end up with is a show covering the best of movies, sports,entertainment and music…

      PS (a fully worked out proposal has been floating around Fictionlab for twoyears)

News page content input by Dominic Robinson, 2003.

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