From Drop the Dead Donkey to Press Gang: eight shows that portray journalists (some are even nice about us)
PUBLISHED: 18:18 31 August 2018 | UPDATED: 18:18 31 August 2018
There’s nothing more cringeworthy than watching your own profession portrayed in a drama on TV. Spare a thought for us journalists when Press begins on BBC1 - before then, we look at eight other shows which have featured reporters.
I’m not sure whether to be excited or terrified: Mike ‘Dr Foster’ Bartlett’s Press begins soon and promises to explore “the fast-paced and challenging environment of the British newspaper industry in a time of turmoil”.
As a journalist and a TV reviewer, I have a feeling that watching Press may be a bit of a busman’s holiday – and that’s if I’m lucky. Because it looks as if we may be taking a detour into Cliché Valley: “The series follows their (the reporters’) lives as they attempt to balance work and play, ambition and integrity, amid the never-ending pressure of the 24-hour global news cycle.”
Deputy news editor of the fictional Herald is Holly Evans (Charlotte Riley) who is… “a gifted and ferociously hardworking journalist, but she tends to bury herself in her work to the detriment of her social life. As the series goes on and she rediscovers the thrill of on-the-ground reporting, Holly begins to wonder whether editing behind a desk is really what she wants.” Hmm.
Ben ‘Apple Tree Yard’ Chaplin is editor of Holly’s rival, The Post: “Duncan is whip smart and charming, but also morally challenged and manipulative. He is a dogged journalist who is determined to get a story – by any means necessary. His personal life is in a bit of a mess and worsens as the series continues.”
Getting the picture? There’s more…
Amina Chaudury (Priyanga Burford) is The Herald’s editor is “…principled and ambitious” BUT… “she is struggling to balance the newspaper’s liberal values with pragmatism – and a need to sell stories…” AND she “faces battles in her personal life, too”.
Then there’s Ed Washburn (Paapa Essideu) who has just graduated from Oxford University and got his first job as a reporter on the Post. Hooray! Oh hang on, NOT hooray: “Ed is struggling to reconcile his liberal idealism with his duties at the paper and his desire to progress. Ed turned to the tabloid only after his application to The Herald was unsuccessful and his activities at work play on his conscience.” Oh.
Surely James Edwards (Al Weaver), investigative reporter on The Herald and great mate of Holly’s is enjoying his job? “James has a reputation for being one of the best journalists in his field, but even so, his role at The Herald is far from secure. He knows needs to land a story big enough to justify his place on the payroll or risk losing it. Him and Holly are close friends, but their relationship is tested after James receives a huge tip-off.” Right.
Leona Manning-Lynd (Ellie Kendrick) is the rookie “on a steep learning curve”, Brendan Cowell plays The Herald’s Deputy Editor Peter Langly (is a potential adulterer) and Raz Kane (Shane Zaza) is The Post’s news editor (“Raz has no ethical or moral qualms over The Post’s often problematic journalistic methods”). Then there’s David Suchet, who the CEO of Worldwide News and “wields enormous influence on British public life”.
Bring back Scott Robinson on The Erinsborough News, all is forgiven.
Watching your own industry depicted in a TV drama is always difficult (a shout-out to the police and anyone working in the NHS who must spend their lives shouting at TV screens), so how will Press stand up to scrutiny to those of us who work in the, er, press? We shall see. In the meantime, let’s look at 10 other occasions when the small screen has attempted to portray journalists in dramas.
* Press starts on BBC1 on Thursday September 6 at 9pm. The complaints from journalists on Twitter will start at 9.01pm on September 6.
Eight programmes which feature journalists
1) EastEnders: The London-set soap has portrayed journalists in a whole host of ways, although it’s fair to say that few are flattering. Martin Jarvis played freelancer Harvey Freeman (dated Pat Butcher and Peggy Mitchell at the same time, no information about his writing technique) and Jordan Baker played Beth Kennedy, a journalist from The London Telegraph (she suggested to Ian Beale that his recently murdered daughter Lucy was a druggie). Then there was Tony Hill, who – after a relatively successful career as a gormless, charmless drug dealer - got a job as a gormless, charmless trainee reporter on the Walford Gazette and his mentor was Polly Becker, who was described by writers as “hard-bitten, cynical, ambitious and someone who never allowed sentiment to get in the way of a good story”. For instance, Polly writes a story about the Kapoor family in Walford, revealing that Sanjay is not the biological father of his wife Gita’s baby. Ashley Davies of The Independent claimed anyone who “watched the Polly-the-reporter-goes-bonkers-and-stitches- up-her-mates episode on EastEnders sitting next to a journalist will have experienced similar responses to those poor folk who’ve seen a war movie with someone who has been in the army. Their viewing would have been punctuated by yells of: ‘That would never happen!’ and ‘Fools. It doesn’t work like that!’ [...] Journalists are always getting upset at the way they are portrayed in television dramas. The Polly palaver on EastEnders would never have happened in real life.” The current reporter assigned to the Walford patch is Sarah Jane Spilsbury (Shannon Murray) who was sent to report on a pop-up St George’s Day event at the car lot earlier this year. Yes! Finally, a true depiction of the (car) lot of the junior reporter!
2) Neighbours: The Erinsborough News was the people’s choice above local rival The West Waratah Star, and deservedly so: the former boasted JASON DONOVAN as a junior reporter. All it took for Scott to get a job was writing a piece about his grandmother Bess. All his other stories were about the lives of his other neighbours with a cavalier attitude towards libel. The Erinsborough News editor also employed Harold Bishop, Nell Mangel, Kerry Bishop, Veronica Baxter and Libby Kennedy, amongst others, to write the gossip column, Madge Bishop to write an advice column, Libby Kennedy to write a wedding column, Sindi Watts to write the astrology pages and Karl Kennedy to write Ask Dr K. Newspaper magnate Paul Robinson is also partial to writing inflammatory articles about his neighbours.
3) The Gilmore Girls: Rory Gilmore is a terrible journalist. She ignores her editor, wears ridiculously high heels at all times, intimidates the people she interviews, falls asleep as she interviews them, sleeps with others, calls editors to pitch stories rather than emails them and isn’t remotely interested in the stories she writes. There are journalists reading this who will recognise a colleague: or themselves.
4) Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: Never trust a trained observer who is unable to spot that the most-talked-about-man-on-earth is the one she’s sitting next to in the office, his only disguise being a pair of glasses. To be fair to Lois, she does say things that journalists should embroider on to tea towels or have made into motivational posters, such as “News never sleeps” and “you’ve still got the power of the press, Clark. It’s also more powerful
than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet and able to change the course of mighty rivers” and “ he’s adorable! Oh, no! The biggest news story in the history of the world - not to mention physics - and I let him get away! Snap out of it, Lois! Start acting like a newspaperwoman!” Maybe not the last one.
5) Press Gang: Sherlock and Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat’s first big TV adventure was Press Gang, an ITV series about young journalists in the 1990s. It was, in essence, the love story of feisty Lynda Day (Julia Sawalha) and American rebel without a cause, Spike Thomson (Dexter Fletcher). Although technically a children’s series, it dealt with some pretty big issues such as solvent abuse, suicide, drug abuse, an armed siege, child abuse…perfect teatime fodder.
6) Drop the Dead Donkey: I think it was watching DDDD (which was supposed to be called Dead Belgians Don’t Count) when I realised that I definitely wanted to be a reporter. Written by the brilliant Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the comedy was filmed at the last minute so that it could be topical. The chief executive of GlobeLink News, Gus Hedges, was the king of management speak, language that all journalists will recognise, and was keen on saying things like “are we cooking with napalm?” and “let’s stir ideas in my strategy wok” and “morning talent base – are the afterburners on full thrust?” and “is Mr Newshound in his kennel? You bet!” Now I have remembered these, I am going to use them every day, constantly.
7) Broadchurch: A recent cringe-fest for those of us who climb the north face of newsmaking (Drop the Dead Donkey) was watching Olly Stevens, reporter for the Broadchurch Echo, a local paper that served a community of about nine people. Not only did Olly publish reports he hadn’t checked on his Blackberry, he also spent most of his time writing for another newspaper altogether which is Not The Done Thing. I practically sighed myself into a coma to see that he had attended a murder trial AS A REPORTER and not taken a notebook.
8) Coronation Street: A recent mention for the Weatherfield Gazette which attracted fury from actual journalists earlier this year for a whole host of reasons. Firstly, the soap showed a mob of local journalists harassing the friends of a murder victim on the street and secondly, real-life reporters criticised the design and English used on a mocked-up newspaper. Teesside Gazette sub-editor Lindsey Sampson said: “Please [Coronation Street] – do your research. Learn how local media works. It’s insulting and upsetting to paint us as monsters in all your storylines that feature members of the media. Journalists are principled, have morals and a code of practice, and never hound grieving families.” Northants Telegraph reporter Sam Wildman pointed out that the mocked-up newspaper contained “no apostrophe in New Year’s Day” and said the murder case was “active as Luke has been arrested, so it would likely be in contempt”.
* Honorary mentions to Scott Templeton in The Wire, everyone in The Newsroom, Adam from The Thick of It, Danny from The West Wing, House of Cards, Peggy Hill in King Of The Hill, Eddie Dunford in Red Riding.