Sherlock’s top rating ‘Abominable Bride’ was another example of abominable storytelling

We often hear that ‘storytelling’ is the skill driving the so-called content revolution. Trouble is it seems to be a skill in short supply.

We often used to hear that, back in the so-called golden age of TV advertising, people liked the ads more than the programmes. Pretty sure they didn’t although some of them, mostly the work of CDP and BMP, had a decent shot at it.

Storytelling is an ancient skill, of course, and it may be that all the goodies that digital technology provides actually get in the way sometimes. This is a problem in advertising but it also seems to be wreaking havoc with some high end offerings from the world of TV and films.

The BBC’s Sherlock was the top rating programme in the UK over Christmas with 8.4m viewers, itself a sign of changing times – and 34 per cent of the TV audience (ditto). This one was set, ostensibly, in 1895 and therefore seemed to promise an end to the gimmickry (text messages with everything and so on) that littered the last series. Well there weren’t any text messages, instead ‘the Abominable Bride’ offered a totally mystifying plot (was Holmes dreaming it all?) that testified to nothing as much as the inability of writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat to claw their way out of the rather large hole they’d dug for themselves.

Any other writers would surely have been told to go away and try again by their commissioning editor. Sherlock, with A-list stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, is presumably too valuable a property for the Beeb to apply such common sense. But depicting the founders of the ‘votes for women’ movement as vengeful victims trying to get back at their men was arrant nonsense. Or was this just what misogynistic (if such he was) Sherlock thought? But it’s still nonsense.

Big rating shows with A-list stars are worth a lot of money these days, just as endless sequels to hit Hollywood movies are. But they don’t seem to advance the cause of storytelling – or, dare one say it, the arts – very much at all. Any writer, in whatever discipline including advertising ‘content’, trying to use Sherlock and its imitators as a model for their career is heading up the wrong creek without a paddle.

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