BBC1 should take more creative risks and not rely on a handful of familiar and long-running titles and personalities, the BBC Trust said today. It also reported that fans of shows like Sherlock were disappointed by limited runs of their favourite programmes.
The BBC1 detective drama, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, began in 2010 but so far only nine 90-minute episodes have been made.
In its annual service review of the main BBC channels, the Trust found that some viewers “do not find BBC1 sufficiently distinctive in some important ways” and that the channel needed to take more risks.
The Trust, effectively the regulator of the BBC, has called for a report from Corporation bosses to be delivered in six months time setting out how it will “increase the distinctiveness of programmes and schedules, with a focus on BBC1”.
The report identified a broad perception that BBC failed to “take risks” and said many “lighter” viewers of the channel – ie, non-regular viewers but those who do watch it – believed that “BBC1 predominantly shows long-running programmes (eg, EastEnders, Casualty, Antiques Roadshow) and sticks to established formats, talent and scheduling.”
The good news for the channel was the thumbs up given in the BBC’s audience research into drama series "which were perceived to be different in production and tone", with shows Sherlock and fellow crime drama Luther cited as prime examples.
The Trust also reported the concerns of viewers who wanted more of their favourite dramas like Sherlock.
“There was some disappointment regarding the frequency and length of BBC1 drama series favourites such as Sherlock,” the report stated. “This was particularly evident among 16-34s who made comparisons with their experiences of US drama, which have much longer and typically more frequent seasons.”
BBC1’s comedy output was broadly praised but the Trust said there needed to be a greater range and more sitcoms that the whole family could watch.
David Liddiment, the BBC Trustee who jointly led the review, said: “For BBC1 in particular, we share [director-general] Tony Hall’s ambition that it has to be not only the nation’s favourite channel but also its bravest, building on the very best programmes in its schedules, that not only entertain and delight audiences, but also frequently challenge and surprise them.”
The verdict on other BBC channels was also varied. The report said that viewer perceptions of BBC3 – which Hall currently plans to turn into an online-only channel – were "mixed", with its factual output singled out for praise by viewers, while it was said not to have a strong reputation for its arts and culture coverage beyond music.
The report also noted that BBC2's audience reach has declined, with just over 50% of people watching each week.
Sherlock co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat recently announced that a one-off special and a fourth three-part series will begin filming in January 2015, a year after season three aired.
The show's producers have often referred to the difficulty of coordinating filming time with Hollywood stars Cumberbatch and Freeman, as well as Gatiss, who also stars, and Moffat, who divides his time between Sherlock and his role as showrunner on Doctor Who.