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British Comedy and Drama in Rude Health as Winners of the BPG Awards Are Announced

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BBC

It is only a few years since the success of reality TV had people fearing for the future of scripted entertainment.

If broadcasters could top the ratings with a bunch of wannabes prepared to go on screen for free (they would be richly remunerated, went the theory, by the tabloids in due course) then what need for big budget comedy and drama?

But the winners of this week's Broadcasting Press Guild Awards tell a different story.

At its height, Rupert Murdoch even launched a dedicated reality TV station. The Fox Reality Channel featured more shows than you could shake a remote control at, although rather fewer that you might remember - My Bare Lady, Househusbands of Hollywood and surely the ultimate in reality TV, Gimme My Reality Show! in which reality TV stars competed for their ultimate dream prize - their very own reality TV show.

The reality turned out to be rather different, as evidenced by the annual awards of the Broadcasting Press Guild, of which I am chairman, and which are announced at a ceremony in London today.

Rarely has the comedy and drama output of UK television been in such rude health, and I speak as someone who helped whittle down the longlists of 30 or so programmes in each category to a shortlist on which our members (made up of people who write about TV and radio) could vote.

Like last year, when it was BBC2's sitcom Rev, this year's awards were also dominated by a single production - the BBC's lavish adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End, which picked up awards for its stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall, for screenwriter Sir Tom Stoppard and for best drama series.

But quality drama series abounded on screen in 2012, from one-offs such as Victoria Wood's Loving Miss Hatto for BBC1 to the same channel's Last Tango in Halifax and Sherlock and the The Hollow Crown season of Shakespeare plays on BBC2.

There was no shortage of acclaimed new comedy either, from Channel 4's Fresh Meat to BBC2's Olympics spoof Twenty Twelve, due to pick up the best entertainment/comedy prize at today's BPG Awards.

Rarely has the competition between the main channels been so intense, with the resurgence of drama on BBC2, another winner with The Hollow Crown: Richard II.

ITV missed out on a nomination this year but will surely be a contender next time round with David Tennant and Olivia Colman crime drama Broadchurch already a big hit two episodes into its eight-part run.

Channel 4 also returned to the drama series fray after a period in which it restricted itself to one-offs. But it has enjoyed only mixed success, with no shortage of plaudits for Dennis Kelly's unsettling conspiracy thriller Utopia but not much of an audience.

Then there is BSkyB, which has pledged to increase its spending on homegrown content by 50% to £600m by next year. It remains to be seen, however, just how much this will come under pressure from Sky's hugely inflated rights deal for live Premier League football, the bedrock of its subscriber base.

All that is to come. For now, Big Brother will return to Channel 5 later this year, having helped Richard Desmond's channel to a rare year-on-year increase in its audience share in 2012, but it is not the beast it once was, and neither did it usher in a new reality some had once feared (with apologies to fans of Gimme My Reality Show!).

It is a sign of the times that even Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, who have spent much of the last 10 years of their career riding high on ITV's Britain's Got Talent and I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, are turning their attention elsewhere.

"We love I'm a Celebrity, Britain's Got Talent, Saturday Night Takeway, but they're all live shows," McPartlin said in an interview earlier this year.

"The difference between doing a live show and a sitcom is that a sitcom can live on. If you do it well, it can leave a legacy, whereas most of our live work never gets repeated because it's final, it's done, you start again."

Gimme My Reality Show indeed. But gimme my Parade's End as well. And Twenty Twelve. And whatever it is that Ant and Dec are working on. Well, probably.

The Broadcasting Press Guild Awards are sponsored by Discovery Channel which champions intelligent entertainment. Discovery Networks UK has 12 channel brands in the UK covering factual,
lifestyle and entertainment programming. For full details of the winners visit www.broadcastingpressguild.org

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