I was reading a follow up report to some of the short listed writers for the CBBC masterclass that were selected from a competition that I entered with a script that I realised slightly too late was probably a bit too similar to "Star Wars" mixed in with slight derivative "Final Fantasy VII". The writer in question, a Michelle Lipton, writes that they were shown a clip from a show written by Russel T Davies called “Children’s Ward”.
“The clips were from a 1996 episode written by Russell T. Davies that went on to win a BAFTA Children’s Award for Best Drama. Steven said that although the episode was over a decade old, he thought it could still be broadcast today without it appearing dated.The storyline dealt with the subject of internet grooming in chatrooms – a boy was being lured to a meeting in a park (in order to buy a rare comic) by a man pretending to be another schoolboy .Steven asked us all to guess how the episode ended – and I don’t think anyone got it right. Although the boy escapes – just – so does the man, and the bleak final shot has him in the park, walking another child he has lured, back to his car. That’s a hard-hitting ending for TV drama in general, let alone a children’s drama.”
The concept of not talking down to children is one that I'm familiar with and it's true that children are capable of all manner of big ideas, dark concepts and all manner of things that would terrify any ordinary grown adult. I'm not trying to criticise the subject matter either; A child would see the above and not find it as sinister or as an adult would, as children are always told not to walk off with strangers and it's only really the adults that can formulate ideas about what happens after the kidnapping. The problem that I have with that being children’s drama is that it's...well, a bit dull.
Obviously, it can be seen as a brave thing to do, if only because although the character we care about escapes, the villain doesn't receive any sort of retribution. But the concept and the set up just seems too much like one of those videos they show you at school warning you not to play around industrial farming equipment, swim around in quarries or jump in front of tractors. Anything like this that I would have seen as a child would have caused me to switch off instantly. I'd be surprised if there is anyone that remembers "Children's Ward" as their favourite show as a child, or if they even remember it without having to think for a few minutes. No matter how well it may be written, and Russell T Davies is pretty good, the whole setup and premise of the show would just leave me stone cold and although I may not be a standard archetype for the rest of humanity, I'm sure I'm not alone in that.
I haven't read much more of Michelle Lipton's blog, but if you are also a new writer, it looks to be pretty good.
I don't know if you know what I mean by those videos that warn you about the dangers of playing in a grain hoppers, or the dangers of playing "pin the tail on the live agitated bull", and maybe I only saw these sorts of things because I grew up in a very rural area where these sorts of things could potentially happen, but some of them stuck with me, if only because of the slight absurdity. I remember one video that was called something along the lines of "EVERYBODY ON THIS FARM WILL DIE IF THEY'RE NOT CAREFUL AND THEY'RE NOT" or something equally terrifying, and the plot consisted of the eldest sister of a large family that lived on a farm being warned by a ghost that various siblings were on the brink of death as a result of games of "Hide and Seek: Idiot Edition". The ghost had clearly died from all of these methods in the past and the older sister being switched on and sensible very diligently runs around the farm rescuing her kin from their impending doom. The bizarre bit happens right at the end. The ghost has clearly taken a bit of a shine to the girl and would like some company in the afterlife, so doesn't warn her about the tractor, which unexpectedly squashes her just before the end credits. I'm not sure if this was meant to be as hilarious as we all found it or if it was meant to be more of a "and just to show you that we're serious, we're killing one of the characters" moment. Also, at least one person came away from the screening thinking "hey, playing on farms looks fun! I never thought of that!".
(If anyone has any idea what I'm talking about, please let me know what the video was actually called because it's driving me mad.)