I mentioned that I’d enjoyed Mark Gatiss’ version of The Tractate Middoth over Christmas. And although that is certainly more of a ghost story than a horror story, it made me wonder why we don’t get more horror series on British television. Series like American Horror Story, and arguably The Walking Dead, prove that there’s popularity in these kinds of tales. There was Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, and we’ve had vampire tales of various sorts – not least the current Dracula on Sky Living and BBC Three’s Being Human.
But none of those are really horror series. Out to scare you and give you frights. There are tense bits, but they try to do other things as well.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that we don’t actually have the slots that could show such shows on the main channels. Yes BBC Three or ITV2 can do something, but think about BBC One and Two, ITV and Channel 4. The times of the main news programmes on those channels limits what’s possible for the most part.
Bear in mind that although there is a 9pm watershed that should allow programmes to be a bit scarier/violent/sexier, there are rules that dictate that broadcasters don’t start too abruptly with unsuitable material:
“Content that commences after the watershed should observe a smooth transition to more adult content. It should not commence with the strongest material.” – Ofcom guidance
As an example of this, Channel 4 recently rescheduled the imported Masters of Sex from 9pm to 10pm mid-run. This may have been due to ratings, but even the “previously on Masters of Sex” segment would have needed re-editing to go out at directly at 9pm.
Now Channel 4 is the only channel that has a suitable drama slot in that it can show hour long series at 10pm. And they used it last year for Utopia, although I suspect that they were disappointed with the viewing figures (it was one of my favourite programmes of 2013). BBC One and Two need to start their dramas at 9pm. OK, BBC Two could start theirs at 9.30pm but given that nobody else has a programme junction at that time, it’d be a very daring thing to do. ITV similarly has to start dramas at 9pm.
There’s nothing to stop a channel running a drama after the news at 10.35pm, but that’s not a slot that’d get a high audience, and channels rightly decide that they’ll spend their drama money when the audience is watching.
None of this is a problem for smaller channels – BBC Three or Four could do it; Sky Atlantic does do it to an extent (The Following is almost a horror series); Sky Living can do it.
But I wonder to what extent the biggest commissioners of original UK drama are constrained by the time-slots available to them? And does that prevent someone making a full-blown horror series?