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5 things we learnt about writing about television from the Radio Times TV Editors


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This weekend the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival took over the BFI Southbank and BFI IMAX, with punters flocking south of the river to celebrate the current golden age of television and hear from the likes of Dame Maggie Smith, Rowan Atkinson and Lee Mack.
On Saturday afternoon Radio Times television editor, Alison Graham, and deputy editor David Butcher, alongside writers Jane Rackham and David Brown, took an hour to impart their wisdom on the next wave of television writers, in their session: Spoiler alert! How to Write About Television.
We, of course, got some television suggestions (“The A Word – I thought that was fantastic” – David Brown, “This Country was one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen” – Alison Graham), and also gained some invaluable advice on how to write about television.
Here are five key things we learnt from the session.
1. There’s no set way into writing about television
Each of the panellists had a different story about how they’d ended up writing about television. Alison Graham started working on the Yorkshire Post as a reporter, David Butcher started making documentaries and Jane Rackham began on magazine Municipal Engineering. David Brown commented that it’s all about getting a foot in the door. He started at the Radio Times as a sub-editor, then worked his way up to be the site's soaps expert.
2. Always find a talking point
Jane Rackham explained how she often has to write about the “unseen”, writing preview pieces for live shows like Strictly Come Dancing before they’ve aired and when she doesn’t know who will leave the competition. “Find a peg to hang it on,” she explained. You always need to have something you can peg your piece on, and it’s your job to find that as a writer.
3. You need to hone your craft
“To be a good critic you’ve got to be interested in the stuff before your time,” David Brown told us. You need to be watching television from 40 years ago, to be able to hone your craft and become an expert in what you’re writing.
4. Get used to working to strict deadlines
“Get used to working right up to the wire” Alison Graham said. You’ll often be working right up to the print deadline, so you need to be able to keep calm amidst a stressful situation. Often schedulers will send over preview episodes of television as late as possible, and you’ll have to watch and write about them in an incredibly short amount of time. You’ll have to get used to working in this environment.
5. Never feel pressured into giving a positive review
You should never feel pressured into giving a positive review if you didn’t like the show, just to keep relationships with the creators. “People wouldn’t dream of pressuring us into stuff, we’re known for being honest,” Alison Graham said. However, remember: “Everyone who made TV didn’t set out to make a bad piece of telly.” Don’t just trash a television show for the sake of it – try and find a redeeming feature and focus on why other people might like it.
Want to start applying these tips to some practical experience? Find out more about how to write about television and more for The National Student by visiting our media hub.
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