Entertainment & Arts

Edinburgh's window into the best and worst of British TV

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Media captionKevin Spacey - the first actor to deliver the MacTaggart Memorial Address - stole the show at the festival

A round-up of the Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival - an insight into the best - and worst - of TV creativity.

ITV won channel of the year, Beat the Crusher won the award for worst TV programme and Kevin Spacey won lots of generous applause for telling an audience of "TV creatives" that what matters are... TV's creatives.

The Edinburgh TV festival is a mix of agonising, debating, backslapping and gossiping about our favourite pastime, television.

It is also a place for TV's bosses to lay down a few markers about the future.

In the session on the problems facing the BBC's new director general Tony Hall, there was a surprise guest.

Tony Hall himself announced that by the end of 2014, he wants half of all breakfast shows on BBC local radio to have a female presenter.

'It's the creatives'

Meanwhile, ITV's director of television Peter Fincham said he was standing by the broadcaster's new comedies Vicious, The Job Lot and Plebs, which will all return to our screens.

Vicious, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, received something of a mauling from some critics but ITV is sticking with it.

But Kevin Spacey's loud exclamation that "It's the creatives, stupid" as the theme to his keynote MacTaggart address set the tone.

The main business was analysing the way programmes end up on our screens.

Image caption Olivia Colman and David Tennant starred in ITV's British-made hit Broadchurch

This was a place to interrogate the controllers of British television and to try to confront the often uncomfortable relationships between the companies that make TV and the corporations that broadcast it.

But it was also a window on the mechanics of television.

The session on how terrible programmes get made was a revelation.

The scene in I'm Alan Partridge in which Alan desperately pitches ideas for a new TV show and suggests Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank, Cooking in Prison and most famously, Monkey Tennis, seems almost tame in comparison with some of the real programme ideas that have been mooted.

One executive admitted they had considered a pitch to Trevor McDonald to do a programme called Trevor McDonald's Slave Ship, a sort of reality show recreating a slave voyage.

A pilot for an erotic reality show called Double Entry was said to have ended in pornographic disaster.

The executive behind ITV's Celebrity Wrestling admitted it was a disaster but pointed out it was up against Dr Who.

However, Sky's Beat the Crusher from the 1990s won the audience vote for worst programme.

All round awfulness

The mix of Freddie Starr randomly destroying precious objects owned by audience members, getting toddlers to race and assault their parents with custard pies and then crushing a couple's car had the cruelty, incomprehensibility and all round awfulness of a truly terrible programme.

However, in their defence, the executives and programme makers revealed it was not just the professionals that occasionally fall short when it comes to programme ideas.

In a version of Room 101, Tim Hincks of Endemol read out a list of suggestions from the public.

Is My Baby Too High Tech? was one, another a show in which a couple travel the world without their feet touching the floor and a panel show about the cost and effectiveness of ventilation systems had all been pitched.

So what does this say about the health of British television?

Image caption Some of the shows that never got made brought to mind Alan Partridge's infamous pitch to TV bosses.

Kevin Spacey's speech declared that we were in a new golden age of serious TV drama.

However, his list, which went from the Sopranos to Homeland and from The Wire to Breaking Bad and of course his own House of Cards, was entirely American.

Nevertheless, the main domestic channels still dominate viewing in Britain despite the plethora of new digital competition.

However, when it comes to profit, the big money is in owning formats and many of the huge international brands are owned by the independent TV production companies many of which are now part of international media firms.

But from Broadchurch and Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, to Pointless and the Great British Bake-Off, there were many programmes the festival was keen to show off to prove the health of British TV creativity.

We spend four hours a day watching traditional TV and nearly 90% of that is watching whatever happens to be on at the time.

If it was all Beat the Crusher we would have gone elsewhere.

And finally, Alan's idea for Cooking in Prison?

Gordon Ramsay did exactly that last year in Ramsay behind Bars.

Does anyone know a baboon with a good forehand?

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