Mission Statement:

Audio drama is one of the most intimate and expressive dramatic mediums, rivaling theater and film in poetic, visual, and narrative qualities. Many people are unaware of this - a stigma lingers that "radio drama" is a scratchy, cartoonish thing of the past, as if people thought that cinema ended with silent movies, unaware of all the great films made since that time. In reality, audio and radio drama is the great frontier of modern theater - with subtle, intimate performances and powerful, gripping stories.

My aim is to promote a discussion of the art, sociology, theory, and future of this remarkable artistic form. The current state of audio drama is precarious, but through careful consideration of how content is presented, distributed, and interacted with, I believe that the radio and audio drama community can grow and prosper and reach an even wider audience.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Mystery of Jeremy Mortimer

Jeremy Mortimer – award-winning BBC radio drama producer . Enigma. Who is this man? What does he look like? Where is he right now?

These are all questions I'm sure you are dying to know. And yet, they remain unanswerable. As far as I can tell, the BBC doesn't have a publicity shot, an official bio, or roster of his work. He appears nowhere, flitting about in rumor and shadow, allegedly producing such masterpieces as Andrew Rissik's Troy Trilogy, or the Mike Walker adaptation of Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. But the question remains...does he really exist?

And if he does exist, why is the BBC so afraid of him?

The last question is the most important. Indeed, it's actually my point. I'm sure Jeremy Mortimer is a perfectly normal person who's rather busy going about his job (and doing it terrifically well). But although he's an important figure in the world of radio drama, he barely has an online presence, aside from a lone Twitter feed.

For some comparison, let's look at my other great obsession, Doctor Who. Even as far back as the 1980's, the Doctor Who producers were not just responsible for producing the series, but also for promoting it. John Nathan-Turner would fly into Chicago dressed in eye-destroying Hawaiian shirts for fan conventions, making dramatic announcements and spearheading rabble-rousing campaigns. Russell T Davies would be interviewed all over the place with his exuberant Welsh intonations, drumming up enthusiasm and buzz about his series. Even the current Who producer, the more reticent Steven Moffat, with his sharp, Scottish wit, is a major presence in the media world. Not only do I know what he looks like, I've met the guy. I drank a beer a few feet away from him at a crowded sports bar in Los Angeles. He always wears the same black blazer.

Although Doctor Who has a somewhat higher cultural profile than radio drama, the point remains – the people who produce content have an important role to play in promoting that content. The audience wants to hear more about the things they like and the decisions that happen behind the scenes. The people who create content become characters in an unfolding real-life drama. Take Peter Jackson, for example.

If you sat through all three Lord of the Rings films and watched all the documentaries that accompanied the DVDs (I watched every single minute), by the end of the saga Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor became characters of their own, you came to like them and hope they would succeed. There's even a tearful moment of triumph when, after all the work and struggle for the past decade, they finally prevail not only in finishing the final film, but in breaking records at the box office and the Oscars. That last documentary was almost as emotional as Return of the King. Maybe even more-so, because it was real.

Radio drama is not an epic fantasy film. But it has dedicated fans, and could have an even larger audience if there was a healthier tapestry of culture surrounding the plays and series. The BBC does not reward its radio audience the way it rewards its Doctor Who audience. It doesn't have to do much. At the minimal level I'm talking about putting faces to names, web design, biographical pages, publicity stills, and cross-promoting its work in non-fiction venues. Maybe they do some of that, I have no idea if Jeremy Mortimer appears on a morning news programs. Maybe he does. But giving the audience characters in the non-fiction cultural narrative is an easy thing to do, and it gives the audience something extra to care about and appreciate. It also is good for morale and for soliciting feedback and creating a dialog with the public.

Maybe Jeremy Mortimer is too busy. Ok, that's fair. Maybe somebody else would be a better spokesperson. Or maybe somebody in the publicity department could do their job and generate some buzz without him having to do anything except smile for a camera. What if he has “a face for radio”? Maybe he looks like a crazy evil person. Well, that's great. That's interesting. You know who else looks like an evil wizard? Christopher Lee, one of the most popular and prolific actors of all time. In any case, the Mystery of Jeremy Mortimer should really be called The Mystery of BBC Publicity.

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