Drama, what is it?
To gain an answer to this quandary, I consulted the 100% ever-reliable dictionary.com and was provided the following definitions.
1. A work to be performed by actors on stage, radio, or television; play
2. The genre of literature represented by works intended for the stage
3. The art of the writing and production of plays
4. A situation or sequence of events that is highly emotional, tragic, or turbulent
1, 2, 3, 4. In that order. And it is interesting that they were numbered thus, as it was numbers one and four that came head to head in the ratings wars of Sunday night.
The two events in question were, of course, middle-class period soap Downton Abbey and the final day of an engrossing Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club, Chicago.
To set the scene, the European team had been comprehensively outplayed by their US counterparts for the previous two days. Every point the Americans had won seemed so effortless, as miraculous putts went down all over the course. By contrast, the Europeans were having to fight tooth and nail to just stay in the contest. Only two of the narrowest of wins on Saturday night prevented them from being dead and buried. As it was, at 10-6 down they had a chance, albeit an astonishingly slim one given the historical preference the Europeans have for team golf over the singles.
Meanwhile I’m sure that Julian Fellowes had very cleverly managed to string another whole series of upstairs/downstairs shenanigans out of Gosford Park, but frankly who cares? It really is utter, utter crap. Even my friends who watch it will admit as much. I’ve never really understood the whole “I know it’s trash, but…” argument. If it’s rubbish, don’t watch it. Or they’ll make more of it.
Back to Chicago then, where the heat was on. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal had made the bold, if predictable decision to send out his in-form players first. That meant, the experts concluded, that Europe needed to win four of the opening five ties to stand a chance. Luke Donald led the charge, building a huge lead on Bubba Watson, while the much-maligned Paul Lawrie took heart from a sensational chip-in at 4 to play like a man possessed. Trouble was brewing though, as the doughty Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson were holding Justin Rose and Ian Poulter at bay, while Rory McIlroy had only just got out of bed. The enormity of the task was still too vast to truly contemplate victory.
It is by no means rare for writers of dramas, in the most common sense of the word, to create mountains to climb. Mountains that are inevitably scaled by the protagonists. The trouble with fiction though is it’s grasp on reality. If anything too implausible happens in a television show, we deride its lack of realism. The far-fetched is a detrimental factor in fiction, for truly unbelievable we must turn to real life.
Rorke’s Drift, for example, was totally unbelievable. The battle of Britain, ridiculous. The construction of the great pyramids, absurd. Likewise, the task facing Europe was too enormous. Were it being written by a pro-European script writer in a Hollywood studio, he would have scribbled out the original 10-6 and plumped for something vaguely plausible like 9-7 or even 8-8. Four point turnarounds simply don’t happen, end of story.
But this is real life. This is no work of a writers hand and exactly because of this, the unbelievable was still an option.
First Ian Poulter, a man who makes the Ryder Cup seem as natural as waking up in the morning, set the pendulum swinging. Simpson’s two point lead was greedily consumed and spat out in the form of defeat. Poults’ Ryder Cup record now reads P15, W12. The man is simply a goliath. Next Justin Rose, trailing by a hole to an imperious-looking Mickelson, sunk a 40-foot putt on 17 before nervelessly holing from 10 to seal victory at the last. The American ship was listing, putts that had been magnetically attracted to the hole all week were missing, a trend that seemed exacerbated as the scoreboard lit up in a sea of blue.
Recently my sister, while working on an advertising campaign, asked me for some iconic images in the history of television. As I racked my brains, it struck me that all of the iconic images I could think of, 9/11 and the Berlin Wall aside, were sporting. Who doesn’t remember Gazza’s goal in Euro 96, or Southgate’s penalty miss? How could I forget the epic Nadal vs Federer Wimbledon finals, or Isner and Mahut’s marathon? The Mobot, Bolt running the 100m with his laces undone, the 2005 Ashes, Ayrton Senna’s death, Wilko’s drop goal, even Martin Keown screaming in van Nistelrooy’s face… They are all there, imprinted on my memory as freshly as they day I first saw them. What scripted drama can you say that about?
The BBC recently ran an advert stating that they were a serious channel and that they were advocating “original drama”, which is a noble cause amid the sea of cultural mediocrity that swamps our screens. But my suggestion to them would be that if they are truly seeking “original drama on the BBC”, then perhaps they should stop selling off all their sports broadcasting contracts. Sport creates images and drama that are quite incomparable to anything else.
And it is to those images that I can now add that of Martin Kaymer, face contorted in a mixture of relief and exuberance, putter gently resting on his testicles, fists pumped in pure elation having won the most amazing Ryder Cup in history.
As for viewing figures, the final scores on the night are quite surprising. 9.7 million people tuned in to see Downton Abbey, while just 2.2 million watched the events unfurl at Medinah. Yes, it’s fair to say that many don’t have Sky Sports, while ITV is, was and always will be the home of ratings-grabbing guff, but will any of those 2.2 million ever forget what they saw? My question to the other 9.7m is, what happened on Sunday night? Anything special?
Julian Fellowes won the ratings war by over four to one. The “primary” definition of the word drama prevailed over its quaternary little brother. But what, really, will be viewed as the more dramatic of the two in the annuls of history? After all, didn’t the star of the world’s bestselling book (and no, I don’t mean Harry Potter) memorably say “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”?
Downton Abbey was a period drama. Day 3 at the Ryder Cup was drama. Period.
by Harry Harland