Tony Earnshaw: Thank you Line of Duty you’ve made TV watchable again

Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure in Line of Duty
Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure in Line of Duty
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Most of the people I know are glued to their telly boxes for Line of Duty. Even TV presenters are at it: on BBC Breakfast this week presenters Dan Walker and Louise Minchin were vibrating on the sofa at the prospect of meeting actor Adrian Dunbar alias Superintendent Ted Hastings.

Who said British television was dull?

Yet it used to be, hence the influx of glossy Stateside product with glossy Stateside stars. In truth these series infested our TV screens. And it’s still going on; The Walking Dead is proof of that. But whereas UK audiences looked westward for their hi-tech, hi-spec police dramas, now they’re looking closer to home. And it’s getting serious: some marriages will founder if one spouse utters a spoiler to the other.

The phenomenon of Line of Duty goes beyond intense acting, gripping writing and the authentic grit of 21st century policing. It’s actually simpler than that. What it represents is grown-up drama for grown-up audiences.

There’s something else to consider. In the dim and distant past television was the decidedly poor relation to cinema. TV stars were not meant to cross over into movies. Yet there were always exceptions. Steve McQueen, James Garner and Clint Eastwood all made the leap from TV serials to movie fame. Garner later went back to TV when his star status dipped. But when he became a bona fide film star McQueen never looked back to the small screen. Ditto Eastwood. Of the British legends Sean Connery is the same.

It works the other way around, too. Tom Selleck tried hard to become a movie star but never really broke out of the boundaries of TV. It shows that not everyone can straddle that gulf. How things have changed. The last ten years have shown how much drama has been enhanced by the power of TV. The key phrase is “long form”, with some filmmakers and stars recognising what 10 hours of television can do for a story. Kevin Spacey saw the benefits when he made House of Cards. Now there is the double whammy of Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange in Feud, or the high-power ensemble of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern in Big Little Lies. They’re all at it. Moreover this is must-see TV: unmissable drama that beats current cinema hands down.

Why? Because it has the scale, scope and storyline to run for hours and hours and hours.

In days of yore clever movie stars slid into TV as their careers waned. Even James Stewart had his own show. Now there is no shame in doing television. Line of Duty has proved that telly is the new film.

I wonder how long we’ll wait before someone turns it into a bad movie…