The festival was a perfect reflection of our bonkers industry, says Ash Atalla.
Our ‘Out of Office’ defaults could have read ‘Out of minds, back Tuesday’. This year’s Edinburgh was part Open University, part Cancun spring break. At times we didn’t just let our hair down, we shaved it off and set it on fire.
Let’s get this right though. The festival is first and foremost about our work, our industry and what we do. It is put together by us and for us. At its best, it provokes, reflects back concern, sheds light and offers answers. At its worst, it’s watching someone boring on a stage talk and sip bottled water.
But what I like is its specificity – it could only be ours, silly and cerebral. But it’s not an easy one to curate. Why? Well, because the industry we work in often makes no sense. And if our jobs make no sense, then why would our annual festival?
Let’s take the medical profession as a benchmark of sanity. Qualifications and knowledge pave the way to the top; science and research rule. Then look at TV – essentially the opposite.
The industry the TV festival has to serve is often chaotic; where decisions can feel random; where success and failure are inches away; where people can earn £50,000 for an hour, and others £9,000 for a year. It is full of some of the most razor sharp, articulate and brilliant people I’ve ever met – and some of the biggest pricks of all time. It is where big business meets back-of-the-envelope. An industry where youth is worshipped, but where the old seem to disappear. A gut feeling, a monumental balls-up, a stroke of genius. Like I said, the opposite of doctors.
And that’s why our annual get-together rightly feels like a controlled explosion. It has to be many things to an unusual tribe. A dull conference centre provides a core, but much of the business gets done outside in bars, parties, and probably beds.
So this year, you paid your money and took your choice. You could see Elisabeth Murdoch play chicken with her inheritance. Watch Peter Fincham have live and full sex on stage with Keith Lemon. Listen while the creator of Modern Family told us to stick to our guns more (yeah, shut up, commissioning editors). Even hear whether Zeebox is the future, or just a German bloke trying to say the word ‘television’.
And when night would fall, there were people queuing to buy you a drink. The Guardian, Yahoo!, Sony, Soho House and UKTV all nervously put their cards behind the bar. At different times, I found myself slipping whisky into my coffee during a daytime meeting with Sky, downing champagne with Baby Spice and getting sex eyes from Nancy Dell’Olio at the Dave party. None of it is normal and all of it is brilliant.
So let’s be happy that we have an industry festival where all this goes on. The Edinburgh Television Festival is our maniac mirror. And like most mirrors, you don’t always see exactly what you want but you usually get the truth. In this case, we perhaps need to brush our hair a bit but mostly I think we look just fine. As for me? I’m off to Frankfurt for a long weekend with Nancy – she just won’t take no for an answer.
Ash Atalla is MD of Roughcut TV. Follow him on Twitter @ashatalla