Lennie James says Line of Duty’s success is because “mainstream viewers have moved more niche”

The star of season one says the police drama would have been very different if it started on BBC One.

Lennie James, Line of Duty

Lennie James, the star of Line of Duty season one, believes the BBC police drama would not be the iconic show it is if it had started on BBC One.

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James plays DCI Gates, the morally conflicted CID detective in season one of the iconic anti-corruption police drama, which screened on BBC Two in 2012 and is now being repeated on BBC One for the first time after its audiences grew from four million in the first season to a peak of more than 10 million in 2019’s season five.

Line of Duty showrunner Jed Mercurio has talked at length about his disappointment at not being commissioned by BBC One originally, but James suggested on Monday’s live aftershow Q&A on RadioTimes.com on Facebook that in hindsight that was a blessing.

“I might be wrong, but I think it would have been a very different show if it had started on BBC One,” he said. “I think its trajectory would have been different, its content would’ve been different. I think there was a few more risks we could have taken on BBC Two and it’s not so much the show has moved more mainstream, I think the mainstream has moved more niche.”

It was a testament to the changing appetite of the television audience that Line of Duty has become the phenomenon it has, he said.

“I think in this so called ‘Golden Age of Television’, I think when people want their grown-up television they want it grown up and they don’t necessarily want it spoon-fed to them… Want to be treated like adults, asked to think and work things out.

James believed it established itself doing that on BBC Two in the first three seasons before BBC One came knocking.

Martin compston, line of duty
BBC

Mercurio agreed: “I think the cultural shift has come from the audience and we’re really grateful that the fans have stuck with the show and the word of mouth has been great, but there’s also been a cultural shift with the commissioners. You know the people who backed the show, in the end were the ones who were vindicated.”

The now-famous extended interrogation scenes were one example of  the risks they could take on BBC Two that would probably not have happened had it begun on BBC One.

James said when they first sat down with the 15-page scene, the Line of Duty director had done his homework and wanted to do it in three sections, but James felt that would break the energy and the growing tension, so he suggested doing it in one take.

“We just went for it… [and] it just worked.”

Production on Line of Duty season six is on hold, but Mercurio hoped it would complete before Christmas so it could screen in 2021.

Line of Duty season one continues on BBC One on Tuesday night and all five full seasons can be watched on iPlayer.

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