Battle of the Dramatists
Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies are Britain's two hottest writers. Which one's better? David Davies asks the question
With the current onslaught of astonishing TV dramas Stateside, it's easy to forget that British drama has hit a purple patch too. This is thanks in no small part to the frankly embarrassing talents of Paul Abbott and Russell T. Davies. Between them they've rekindled one of the great TV programmes of all-time, turned a show about a Manchester council estate into working class poetry, broached the subjects of gay sex and religion in primetime slots, and crafted the kind of political thriller John Grisham wishes he still knew how to write. It seems churlish to try and figure out who's better. I'm going to be churlish.
I've graded them on pretty much anything worth grading them on. Some categories hold more points than others, because they're more important. See what I did there? Before you advise me that such an exercise is bound to lead to hair-tearing, sleepless nights and possible bed wetting, I should warn you that balding smelly insomniacs do not take well to criticism. Let battle commence!
Star turns - their best work
PA: Anyone who doesn't rank Shameless as Paul Abbott's greatest work should be sent into hell waving an ice lolly. It's beat poetry of a kind, the distillation of working class eloquence. Or, as Frank would probably put it, it's 'fucking great'. It would have to be to knock State Of Play into second place. Quite why this failed to become watercooler TV is something that will haunt those of us who tuned in. Oh, and did I mention Clocking Off? That did become watercooler TV. Calling Abbott's output an embarrassment of riches is like calling Anne Robinson a bit annoying - it just doesn't quite cover it.
RTD: 'Bring Doctor Who back? Are you mad? Let me take the window out of your office so you don't have to smash through it as you jump to your death when you realise what a massive, massive, massive mistake you are making, Mr. Davies'. Or so we all thought. It turned out to be the greatest turnaround in television history, keeping the fans happy with its season-wide story arc and the casual viewers gripped with a new adventure every week, whilst taking the indie-cred leap of casting Simon Pegg as a villain. Davies also has a proven track record in controversy, with Queer As Folk and The Second Coming both prompting armchair debates under the guise of quality storytelling. Yet overall, there's still nothing in Davies's canon quite as complete as Shameless, so he gets one less point. Sorry Russ.
Flops - oh dear
PA: Remember Linda Green? I do, but only the adverts, which ran on the BBC for what felt like the length of the cold war, before spluttering out in a hazy mist of bland storytelling and Liza (that's Liza with a 'z' folks, because she ain't no commoner) Tarbuck in the lead role. Whether this was Abbott's fault or not is a moot point; as soon as he heard she had the part, he should have burnt the scripts.
RTD: I have to admit, I never got through an episode of Mine All Mine. In fact, I'm not going to tell you what it was about, because I don't want to risk even the slightest chance of you being enticed by the dullest programme this side of a Panorama report on the risks of gardening. Actually, I might watch that. Anyway, less minus points for Davies, because no one can remember his show, and it wasn't marketed into the ground.
Critical darling? - who gets more salad tossed?
PA: The critics love Shameless. They also loved State Of Play. They also loved Clocking Off. In fact, Abbott is pretty much as far into the critics' good books as it's possible to get. He'll need at least two bad episodes of Shameless before they dismiss him as a has-been. Which is one more episode than any other writer working today. Apart from...
RTD: They're still waiting for it to sink in. Yes, Doctor Who was a good show. They all had their poison pens out, ready to dip into the pig blood and destroy a reputation carefully built on shows that were controversial because they were good, not good because they were controversial. It's this distinction that's also kept Davies in the black, so I can't separate 'em.
There's no doubt about it - Paul Abbott is by far the most interesting character. Apart from looking a little like Mr. Stay Puft, Davies has nothing on the man who grew up without a TV, was raped, and was able to base a show like Shameless on his actual life. There's nothing more appealing than a little scrapper unleashing the talent inside. To rest my case, I point you to the South Bank Show. There's one about Abbott. There isn't one about Davies. Having said that, if the second series of Who is as good as the first, Davies will have a lot more cachet come the next face-off.
PA: 5/5, RTD: 2/5
Battle of the ratings - who beats up who with what?
Sorry Paul, but Russ has you absolutely whupped in this category. There's nothing like a primetime show that appeals to all the family, mainly because there was nothing like a primetime show that appealed to all the family. Until Doctor Who came along. With the exception of the soaps, it will probably be the most successful work of fiction on TV for the next few years, so long as nothing goes horribly wrong (like casting someone from Liberty X or something). It's not enough to do well in the ratings when you're up against such a phenomenon. Sorry Paul, you had no chance.
PA: 7/10, RTD: 10/10
Compare these writers a year ago, and Abbott would have comprehensively destroyed Davies. With the introduction of Doctor Who, though, Davies has created a TV phenomenon that really counts as something interesting against the glut of talent competitions and reality shows currently dominating the primetime television landscape. Sure, he has yet to craft a genuine all-time great TV show like Shameless, but with the power Doctor Who has now given him over producers, it's only a matter of time before he challenges Abbott in the talent stakes. Having said that, Abbott might come along and write a true work of art, a feat well within his grasp. We'll have to wait and see. For now, Abbott edges it on talent over popularity. Come back next week when I compare David Soul to Lee Majors. Only joking - that really would be too close.