A quick post while the tea brews….
It’s excellent, really excellent, that more episodes of Ripper Street will be made, thanks to the intervention of Amazon. The deal, according to Variety, involves Amazon part-funding new episodes in return for rights to both of the first two series, and first-broadcast rights in the UK, a few months after which the BBC will screen them. No news yet on how many episodes, or when, or the window between Amazon’s screening and the BBC’s. But this is good news – as I wrote here, I thought Ripper Street was a really excellent and lively addition to the BBC schedules, and I was appalled when it was canned.
But let’s be clear about something: Amazon’s been quite clever here. Because it hasn’t just bought a programme brand, an onscreen look-and-feel, a high-class cast and a high-quality writing team. It’s bought a set of characters. Those characters have been etched out, with growing clarity and assurance by actors, writers and directors alike, over two series. They’re now worth actual cash money.
When television drama is done right and done well, this equity investment in characters pays growing dividends (at least, it does until it doesn’t). Which is why it was so bloody scandalous of the BBC to drop the show in the first place. Yes, audiences could have been higher (so why change the broadcast night and schedule it against more popular fare on the other side?). Yes, it must have been an expensive show to make (so why change the…. oh, you get the idea). But the hard work had already been done. Reid and Jackson and Drake and the rest had had come alive. We cared about them. And that, more than anything, is I think why Amazon have come in on this.
Because characters have value. Characters pull in audiences. Look at Breaking Bad, which I am so nearly at the end of (five episodes to go) that I can barely stop thinking about it enough to write the book I’m supposed to be working on. Those characters were built, knocked down, re-established and refined over five series, until I’m not sure whether Walt is evil or Jesse is good or Skyler is sly, just in the same way I’m not sure about real people. It’s the power of serial television (and, ahem, serial books). And it’s characters that drive it.
So back to my own serial. For which this has been a very, very discreet form of advertising.