BBC 2 gave the game away in the launch timing of its 6-part drama series The Hour yesterday.
If you think a show has got legs you don’t lay out your stall just when viewers are likely to be away at some stage on holiday.
Rather than the buzz The Hour was Britain’s answer to Mad Men, it’s a summer filler – and on the evidence of one episode not a very good one at that.
Different decade, countries, and industries but the world of difference is in the sheer quality of the American show’s writing and acting. The only similarity is there were a lot of suits ‘n’ ties, smoking and drinking in both.
Where Mad Men recalled the sexism and racism of yesteryear with wit and subtlety, The Hour preached at viewers forgetting the cardinal rule of drama – show don’t tell.
The Hour is set in 1956 and revolves around the BBC breaking with traditional current affairs broadcasting with the creation of a Panorama-style programme. A love triangle should have been a sufficient sub-plot. But there’s a murder mystery thrown in for good measure – creepy music and shadows, think 1930s Hitchcock pastiche – which ace reporter Ben Whishaw will solve. He hares around as though auditioning to be the next Dr Who.
The beautiful Romola Garai - brilliant in The Crimson Petal and The White - is unconvincing as The Hour’s producer and the hunky Dominic West, as the fictional programme's front man, does his best Rod Taylor impression in the worst fitting suit since Norman Wisdom's.
To be charitable The Hour should have had a lot going for it. The actors come out of the top drawer although I think they'll soon drop The Hour from their CVs. Writer Abi Morgan enjoys a fistful of Baftas. Budget restraints may have contributed to the thin period feel.
But there looks to have been a lack of confidence in the show's ability to hold its audience; we'll know for sure if Garai gets her kit off. No bad thing in itself but the central idea of depicting a television newsroom in 1956 - a year that saw the Suez invasion (a crossroads for Britain's role in the world), Cold War spy fever, and the Hungarian Revolution - should have been strong enough.
Strong enough indeed to have abandoned the noir-ish sub-plot, which is probably linked to one of these events.