BFI logo











Screenonline banner
KS4/5 Film and Media Studies: British TV Drama

Explore contemporary TV writing and directing

Main image of KS4/5 Film and Media Studies: British TV Drama
Author Poppy Simpson, BFI
Topic British TV Drama
Key WordsGenre, TV, British, drama
Show full lesson spec

An activity that encourages students to explore UK TV dramas of the 2000s and develop their own opinions.

This activity asks students of film and media to carry out individual research into British TV drama in the 2000s - reading about a range of programmes and watching a selection of extracts. In doing so, it asks them to develop their own opinions about the state of contemporary, home-grown TV drama and encourages them to compare and contrast British drama with US product.

Lesson Objective

  • To develop ideas and opinions about the nature, impact and success of British TV drama, in particular in relation to popular US series.


Begin by asking students to name examples of British TV drama from the 2000s, asking them to think beyond the more obvious long-running series such as Casualty and The Bill. What titles immediately spring to mind?

Some may find this basic exercise difficult, which is, in itself, an outcome worth exploring. Why is it hard to generate a list? Is it easier to name US imports such as The Wire or Mad Men? Why might this be? The length of US drama (usually multiple series compared with the one-off hour-long dramas or two-parters more commonly found on British screens)? Or the content?

Alternatively, you may want to point students towards the titles in the main Screenonline site, where they can browse TV programmes by decade, or look for individual titles that they know of or are suggested to them - for example, series like The Street, Clocking Off, Spooks and Life on Mars or one-offs such as, Out of Control, Gas Attack, Second Coming and The Deal.


Main Attraction

Begin the main part of the lesson by looking through the list as a class. What are students' immediate observations? Are there any clear connections between the titles (in terms of format and length as well as theme/topic and approach)? Are they aware of the writers/directors behind these programmes?

After this initial discussion, pose an argument that students will spend the remainder of this activity interrogating:

  • In May 2010, the BFI kicked off a season entitled 'Second Coming: The Rebirth of TV Drama', which claimed that the British were 'chronically undervaluing...a new golden generation of TV dramatists'. One of the central arguments was that in celebrating US drama so enthusiastically, the UK was failing to recognise its wealth of home-grown talent.

Challenge students to prepare for a debate around this argument by looking at examples of contemporary British TV drama in more detail. Screenonline has a wealth of extracts from drama of the 2000s as well as a number of collections that offer an overview of the genre as well as historical context; for example The Television Play and earlier examples of Drama Documentary.

As students carry out their research, it might be useful for them to look for areas to compare and contrast with US TV drama that they are familiar with - themes and topics, storylines and writing, format and length. Ask them also to choose at least one extract from Screenonline that they can use to support their observations and opinions about British TV drama.


End Credits

Once students have had time to explore Screenonline and develop their own ideas about contemporary TV drama, kick off the class debate!


External Links
BBC Drama
British TV Drama

Video Clips
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Deal, The (2003)Deal, The (2003)

Read more about this programme

Thumbnail image of Gas Attack (2001)Gas Attack (2001)

Read more about this programme

Thumbnail image of Out of Control (2002)Out of Control (2002)

Read more about this programme

Thumbnail image of Second Coming, The (2003)Second Coming, The (2003)

Read more about this programme

Thumbnail image of Spooks (2002-2011)Spooks (2002-2011)

Read more about this programme

See also

Thumbnail image of Drama DocumentaryDrama Documentary

Controversial blend of fact and fiction

Thumbnail image of The Television PlayThe Television Play

The rise and fall of the single drama

Thumbnail image of Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)

Long-running, often provocative BBC drama strand