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And the beat goes on: The continuing influence of The Singing Detective

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From the 25 years of its original broadcast on British television in December 1986, this article aims to assess the continued influence of the British TV serial, The Singing Detective (BBC). It aims to clarify many of the major techniques employed in the programme and suggest ways in which its particular style and non-naturalistic aesthetic (with its roots dating back to the early 1960s) has influenced a whole generation of TV drama since. In particular, it will draw direct parallels between writer Dennis Potter’s work and serials such as Twin Peaks, Oz, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos, citing various sources that suggest these connections are more than just hypothetical. The American cable channel HBO (Home Box Office) will come under particular focus, with the author drawing links between its current remit to produce experimental and adult-themed drama and Potter’s own work. It will then investigate the state of contemporary British television drama and suggest why it arguably refuses to take as many risks as some of its American counterparts, citing various sources which suggest that contemporary British hard-hitting drama appears to have been forsaken for a plethora of heritage and period-based serials. In conclusion, it will argue that while the influence of The Singing Detective appears to have been profoundly significant elsewhere, its dramatic legacy is now surprisingly missing from British TV screens.

Keywords: HBO; drama; heritage drama; naturalism; non-naturalism; serialisation; television

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Aberystwyth University

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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