Widening the network
The trendy London TV producer responsible for hip Channel 4 shows The Tube and Vic Reeves" [fig Night Out turned out to be Scottish all along. and now he’s home. Eddie Gibb talks to Mike Bolland. the new head of arts and entertainments at BBC Scotland.
ccuse Mike Bolland of being the king of late-night. cult TV and in his defence he'll point to gameshows like The Crystal Maze and Fifteen To One. It won‘t wash. though. Both programmes have cult followings of their own. particularly the latter. whose deeply ironic host William G. Stewart is a favourite in student flats everywhere.
This culty reputation springs from his time as arts and entertainments controller at Channel 4 during the second half of the 80s, when he was responsible for spotting the potential of
Jonathan Ross's ground-breaking talkshow The
Last Resort and Vic Reeves" Big Night Out. Bolland had previously been the station‘s first head of youth television — before Janet Street— Portcr arrived to change the spelling to ‘yoof‘ — with live music show The Tube among his credits. In 1990 he left to help set up Channel X. a thrusting independent production company which began monopolising Friday nights on Channel 4 with shows from the likes of Ross. Reeves and Mortimer. and Jo Brand.
This kind of cosy arrangement infuriated independent producers outside London who saw the whole thing as a carve up. with deals struck over drinkies in fashionable media haunts like the Groucho Club. In fact. Bolland turned out to be a champion for those unheard voices in the provinces when he became chair of PACT. the independent producers’ trade body. Furthermore he’s Scottish. and at the tail-end of 1995 was lured away from the Groucho by BBC Scotland. where he began his television career as an office boy, to become head of arts and entertainments.
This new post was created after the departure
‘Good TV can speak to the whole of the UK. It doesn’t have to be parochial just because it’s made by an independent producer in Scotland.’
Mike Bolland: Scotland's new master of light entertainment
MIKE BOLLAND FEATURE
of Colin Gilbert. head of comedy and director of Rab C. Nesbitt. who left. ironically. to go independent with Nesbitt writer lan Pattison. Bolland will have the wider remit of commissioning arts and comedy programmes. plus what he calls the ‘bit where they meet’. light entertainment. His job is to strengthen BBC Scotland's entertainment presence on the network and match the success of the drama department‘s output. ‘Creatively there's no reason why things should come from within the M25.‘ says Bolland. ‘Good TV can speak to the whole ofthc UK. It doesn’t have to be parochial just because it’s made at Queen Margaret Drive [BBC’s Glasgow headquarters] or by an independent producer in Scotland.‘
This is a good time for a heavyweight producer with good London contacts to return to Scotland. Last year‘s Hatch Report on the BBC‘s regional programming policy resulted in what is effectively a quota for television made outside London. Although that doesn't guarantee BBC Scotland at fixed programme budget. it does level the playing field somewhat when it competes for cash with London producers. ‘1 would like to see us get a bit more ambitious about the areas of television we inhabit as Scots because there‘s no shortage oftalent up here.‘ says Bolland. ‘I think that in Scotland we have something different to say which will still appeal to a wide audience.’
One of the reasons 48-year—old Bolland underplays his reputation as the cult king is that he believes BBC Scotland needs to crack the early evening. mainstream parts of the schedule. Although Rab C. Nesbitt has become one of BBCZ’s home bankers. with audiences ofaround six million, it goes out after the watershed. Bolland is backing BBC Scotland‘s new sketch show Pulp Video. which is being turned into a series despite an indifferent pilot. but he seems likely to direct his energy into developing an early evening sitcom or light entertainment show.
‘l-laving inhabited the late nights. I know they are easier to do than the shows that will play B BC] or [TV at peak time.’ says Bolland. ‘More challenging is creating entertainment before the watershed which doesn‘t rely on supposedly shocking people.‘ BBC Scotland must find a big rating entertainment show if it is to help establish a healthy production base in Scotland. he believes.
Bolland is at home with the suits who run television. but he is also a fan of comedy. having worked with many established stars such as Harry Enfteld in his early days doing Loadsamoney on Friday Night Live. Scottish stand-ups Parrot and Fred MacAulay have already impressed Bolland. and he will be looking for a format which allows Phil Kay to transfer his energetic shtick from stage to screen.
On the arts side, Bolland believes BBC Scotland can do more than contribute one-offs such as a forthcoming Omnibus documentary on Robert Burns or the monthly excursion north of the border by the now defunct Late Show. Persuading BBC controllers in London to commission a series like whimsical arts strand [zit-S for the network is a taller order than. say. a sitcom about a Glaswegian wino in a string vest. But in BBC Scotland's favour is the fact that it is both a region and a national broadcaster. If anyone can play the network at its own game and secure a fair shout for Scottish programmes. it is Mike Bolland.
the List 12-25 Jan l99617