“There’s snobbery at work here”: Bafta TV keeps snubbing popular dramas like Broadchurch and Doctor Foster

"Broadchurch was the most watched drama of 2017. Surely that’s worth at least a chocolate replica Bafta and a can of pop?" asks Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham

Broadchurch

It’s a common cry every April, when the Bafta TV nominations are announced. Not just in the Radio Times office, but also in front rooms and on social media. That joyless, outraged chorus of “but what about… [and then you must insert the name of your favourite, cruelly ignored show here]?”

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There might also be a gentle accompanying symphony as the murmurs of “not The Crown AGAIN” waft through the atmosphere. “It’s not even on proper telly!” Unlike the Bafta TV awards themselves, of course, which are on BBC1 on Sunday.

Polished BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) masks sit in a box during a photocall at the New Pro Foundries, west of London on January 31, 2017. 
(Getty, HF)

Yes, The Crown is splendid, and it should be nominated. But last year brought us two towering dramas on what I will describe through gritted teeth as “mainstream TV” that stamped on all before them, securing huge audiences and critical acclaim.

Usually “critical acclaim” means “it was really good, no one watched” but Broadchurch and Doctor Foster did the double. Massive. And, come on, Broadchurch was the most watched drama of 2017. Surely that’s worth at least a chocolate replica Bafta and a can of pop?

Yet look at the Bafta shortlists and what do you see? Surely there are Best Drama nominations for both Chris Chibnall and Mike Bartlett’s dramas? Best actress nods for Olivia Colman and Suranne Jones? Maybe Best Actor handshakes for David Tennant and Bertie Carvel? Think again, suckers!

Nothing, apart from a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Julie Hesmondhalgh, who was so achingly memorable as rape victim Trish. I hope she wins, she deserves to.

Now, I know ratings aren’t everything and aren’t necessarily an indicator of quality. But big audiences for major event-dramas surely can’t be ignored. And Broadchurch, the last ever series, was a major event, even if the ending was a bit “what the heck?”

Similarly, Doctor Foster, for its many faults (its final episode was a horrible mess), was hugely talked about. That final episode secured nearly ten million viewers. The show was the third most requested programme on iPlayer last year (after Taboo, also ignored).

There’s a snobbery at work here, a noseholding when it comes to good, old-fashioned talking-point TV. Really big, hugely watched dramas like these must have something, surely, that juries can see sets them apart from the ordinary, that makes them fit for industry award shortlists in the Best Drama Series or Miniseries categories?

Instead, we get The End of the F**king World (Channel 4), watched by no one but it became a social media talking point, the dreary Howards End, and modish, contemporary, fact-based dramas that get a lot of newspaper attention – The Moorside, Three Girls, The State.

Again, these were excellent, and The Moorside and Three Girls were well watched and enormously appreciated. But there should be room for the big guns too. Where, for instance, is Britain’s most beloved drama, Call the Midwife, on the lists? Where is Poldark?

In the comedy categories, what about The Detectorists which finished for good on BBC4 with a third series? Just a supporting acting nod for Toby Jones, but nothing else.

It’s routinely suggested that categories should be expanded from four to six, but that doesn’t work for me, the big shows would just be padding for the trendy stuff so beloved of juries. A nomination must be meaningful.

But maybe in these days of fractured viewing, of bingeing, of catch-up, of streaming, of scattered audiences who for some shows aren’t on the same episode at the same time, awards just don’t mean anything any more.

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The Bafta TV coverage starts at 8pm on Sunday 13th May on BBC1

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