Published on: 03 July 2013 in Longform

Tom Archer slams commissioners for killing creativity

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Tom Archer, the former BBC controller of factual production, has said the growing power of TV commissioners is threatening creativity in the industry.

As part of his ‘Is TV commissioning killing creativity?’ lecture delivered at the University of the West of England in Bristol, Archer said the increasing influence of commissioners had left British TV in “a rotten state”.

He outlined the problem as, “the elevation of the status of commissioning, and commissioning’s mission creep into all aspects of programme making.”

During his inaugural lecture as a visiting professor at the University of the West of England, Archer described commissioners as an “uncreative crust” at the top of the industry.

They began to hold too much control over content in 2000, he said, when devolved editorial control of strands was killed off and, “the centre took total control of what was produced.”

While the growth of the indie sector in the 1980s led to increased diversity and creativity, Archer added, it also laid the “seeds of today’s malaise”, leading to channel controllers wielding too much power.

Archer went on to condemn the “surprisingly large” bureaucracy that surrounds channel controllers.

“It’s quite a regular sight in TV Centre to see a BBC channel controller sat in a meeting with a dozen advisors and not a single one of them, sometimes even the channel controller, has ever made a programme,” he said.

Archer also slammed the “almost routine demand” for shows to be pitched as finished products, describing the procedure as “costly” and “soul destroying”.

Despite the status of a commissioner being elevated to that of a “minor god”, it was seen as “suicidal to make a fuss about their behaviour,” he said.

Archer said that creativity was threatened by the system which had become a “self-justifying monster that needs to be stopped”.

Archer said he was only able to speak out on these issues as he had no intention of staying in the industry.

“We’ve come to accept as normal, inevitable that channels [controllers] can no longer develop personal and trusting relationship with their producers – they’re too busy,” he said.

“That’s why you need layers of commissioners to conduct the relationship, that’s why you need commissioners to explain precisely what you want for your channel because you’re too busy.

Originally published in Broadcast magazine, dated 28th June 2013. Visit for vital industry insight.

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