Why Have We Not Caught Up With BBC Two's The Hour?

27/07/2011 14:55 BST | Updated 26/09/2011 10:12 BST

It was hailed as the British answer to the hit US show Mad Men. It stars the hunky Dominic West, previously known as Jimmy McNulty from The Wire. And it's about a TV newsroom - a place full of drama. Key elements to any good TV show, we think you'll agree...

So why has BBC Two's The Hour failed to capture the millions of viewers you'd expect?

The second part of Abi Morgan's six-part drama lost more than a million viewers week-on-week last night. The show's debut pulled in 2.9m, but this week only 1.96m came back for more, according to Digital Spy.

The BBC dispute this, stating: "Last night's figures for episode two were 2m (8.7% share). An extra 0.163m watched on HD bringing the audience up to nearly 2.2m."

They also claim: "We're on slot average for the BBC Two audience and higher if you add HD, and The Hour is performing well in terms of the slot average of 7.8%"

Whether figures dropped by one million, as Digital Spy states, or by one third as the BBC states, they have still dropped significantly.

For some reason The Hour hasn't captured viewers' imaginations like the BBC had hoped. Maybe it's a grower? Maybe it won't receive mass viewing figures until months down the line, when it starts winning awards? How many people honestly knew about cop drama The Wire when its first season aired?

Caroline Frost, The Huffington Post UK's Entertainment Editor, said the problem with The Hour may be that: "It is a distinctly BBC production about... the BBC.

"Therefore, while the wonderful clothes, gleaming brass stair-rails and smoky bars may have lots of sensual appeal, in reality the topic may be of little relevance or interest to any other than a committed, but niche market at best.

"At worst, it may come off looking like one big wallowing, self-congratulatory stroke, and there's a word for that."

Lynne Reid Banks, a founder member of ITN news, and one of the first female TV news reporters in the mid-50s, wrote to The Guardian recently to complain about the authenticity of the show.

She lambasted the programme claiming: "This was a total travesty. Not one single detail was accurate."

And demanded: "Bring back Drop the Dead Donkey if this is the best the BBC can do."

It would be silly to think viewers aren't watching the show because of its factual inaccuracies - after all, how many viewers know what the inside of a 50s newsroom was like? And it's a drama - not a documentary.

Another problem is its comparison to Mad Men. If you're a Mad Men fan and you tune into The Hour on the premise that it's going to be bring you the same amount of boozy hedonism, complex characters and sexism as the Madison Avenue ad execs, then you'll be bitterly disappointed.

As The Guardian wrote after its first episode aired: "The Hour isn't a British Mad Men - all it has in common is smoking and drinking."

They described it as "a bit of hotchpotch - Drop the Dead Donkey meets Spooks and, all right then, a hint of Mad Men for the period detail, even if the period is a different one."

In a press statement the BBC said: "The Hour further demonstrates BBC Two's commitment to re-establish its reputation as the home of intelligent and ambitious drama reflecting the new strategy and investment for drama on the channel."

The Hour is certainly intelligent and ambitious, but if it's ever going to be more than a six-part drama, it's going to need some mass appeal.


Have you watched The Hour? What did you think?