I’ve been thinking about this guest blog for the longest time. Russell first asked me to write something over a year ago. I didn’t think many people would be interested in the machinations of a TV programme. Like making sausages, it’s best left unexplored. But yesterday I tweeted Russell to say I’d be sending him a blog. And what is said on twitter just can’t be taken back. I could put it off no longer. I decided to block out a cheery piece about the first episode. A few behind-the-scenes anecdotes and musings on the subjective nature of wine connoisseurship.
But this morning I caught myself staring at a flower stall and wondering if working there wouldn’t be a better use of my time. And now, as I start to write, I feel something else bubbling up. I’m pondering why any of us who work in what I broadly term the ‘creative’ industries do it? Why do we put ourselves out there when we could so easily hide away doing something no-one ever sees? Why do we continue trying when even our best, and that which is empirically good, isn’t enough for one group of people. I talk of those whose sole job is to comment on what we do. The critics. And let’s face it, these days, everyone’s a critic.
Why am I saying this now? Well, last night The Wine Show launched on ITV4. It’s the culmination of 19 month’s work by a small but dedicated team of people. We had only one mission; to entertain and inform people about a subject they may not know much about. We were in a tough slot – 7pm on ITV4 (it will repeat on ITV this Saturday). But this morning I see that one critic admitted to watching the show having already decided to hate it.
Now, let me be clear. In the piece amidst the bile he attempts to make some humorous observations. In the end, he grudgingly says he likes it. But like many people, I soak up the negative in inverse proportions to the positive.
Much of the review is factually ‘fluffy’ at best. Matthew and Matthew didn’t have the ‘heft to get the show made’. The show was largely financed before they were even cast. ITV never released a trailer. We did that ourselves on YouTube.
But what’s odd is that the trailer isn’t really a trailer. It’s just the first minute of the programme, which is in the same show he then decides is quite nicely made. It’s a bit like saying you hate the canape but served up on a plate it somehow tasted different…but whatever. He liked it.
I suppose I should take the criticism of my ‘stilted narration’ with a pinch of Maldon from someone who is so unhappy with his lot. I am particularly irked by the lazy Top Gear analogy (it’s presented by 3 people with penises. I get it.) but not bothered enough to use Disraeli’s comment ‘How much easier to be critical than to be correct’.
So why am I writing this on a food blog aimed at food folk at the top of their profession? Well, here’s where our worlds collide because I think the same thing can be said of chefs. I’ve spent years working with and observing chefs at fairly close quarters. I’ve often wondered what it is that makes them tick. Long ago I came to the conclusion that the common character traits of the most successful chefs are a massive ego and a tiny id. Huge self-regard baked on to low self-esteem. But there’s something else they all have in common. A desire to make people happy. That’s it. Nothing more. You can dress it up with the need to nourish, showmanship, performance or power. But I’ve never met a great chef who doesn’t care if his customers are happy.
It’s the same if you’re an author, a gardener, a musician or a hundred other jobs where sharing your talent is key to the point of your existence. And it’s especially true if you’re a TV producer. You might be able to write for personal gratification, or paint in a garret to feed just your soul. But as a TV producer you have to put it out there. If you don’t, you might as well pull the duvet over your head and stick a copy of TV Choice down your throat until you suffocate.
Like a chef leading a kitchen, a TV producer has to have a huge amount of confidence to turn a vision into reality. You have to communicate that vision to a large number of people. Some may need convincing because of their own experience and skills. But even the most successful producers question themselves. They doubt the wisdom of their own decisions. Like chefs, I’ve never met a producer I admire who doesn’t feel that way. Unlike chefs we rarely get the chance to start again if it’s all gone wrong.
Whether you’re launching a TV show that millions of people will see, or serving three bowls of a soup, our motivations and fears are the same. We live in a world where everyone with a twitter account is a critic. Every blogger thinks they are the next Giles Coren. It’s become particularly difficult for those of us with tender ids and less than monstrous egos to cope. I suppose it’s the same for everyone in some way or another. Even doctors are rated on websites these days.
As a TV producer I accept that not everyone will love what I do. I just try and make as many people as I can as happy as I can. As a chef or cook I know you do too. I know many chefs hate what the TV business has done to their profession. But perhaps we can afford to be a little kinder to one another. We must remember that the challenge we share is meeting our critics head on. There is always a place for well informed and thoughtful analysis. And learning from that is easy. It’s believing our best is excellent in the face of cynicism that’s difficult.
Now, does anyone have a flower stall they’d be interested in selling?