Before “Black Mirror” creator Charlie Brooker started writing
for television, he used to make a living writing
about television. His weekly Guardian “Screen Burn” column was famous for eviscerating its targets.
He once described the contestants on the British remake of “The Apprentice” as “14 odious, over-confident wannabe entrepreneurs, every single one of whom you will learn to hate twice as much as Hitler.”
And then there was this description of Simon Cowell’s hair: “He prepares for each episode by dipping his head in matt-black Dulux and painting his dressing room wall with it.”
All in all, he’s not afraid of telling TV executives what he thinks. This makes his views on working with Netflix on the third season of “Black Mirror” all the more interesting.
In television circles, Netflix is heralded as a saintly creative partner. One that gives bagfuls of cash to storytellers and trusts them to get on with it.
Kevin Spacey famously opined on the creative freedom handed over to the “House of Cards” team. “We weren’t asked to compromise or water-down the story we wanted to tell by anyone,” he told the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2013.
Brooker’s views don’t diverge from Spacey’s too much — and like the American actor, he believes “Black Mirror” has benefited from Netflix’s trust.
“I haven’t seen a satanic side. They have been brilliant,” he told Business Insider. “They have been very collaborative, they have not been like cigar chomping American execs who say: ‘Put some titties and some kids in it.’ None of that.”
He added: “They’re very thoughtful and when they have notes on the script, it’s always very useful, annoyingly useful. I haven’t seen a down side. But then I would say that.”
Brooker said it was like this from the outset with Netflix. The online video giant swooped for “Black Mirror” when British broadcaster Channel 4 refused to commit to a third season. It showed a “terrifying level of commitment,” according to Brooker.
“When I’ve worked on things where you don’t know if it’s going to happen or not, I find it hard to push on through crafting the script because I’m a pessimist. But if you know it is going to happen, you’ve got a proper deadline. You get rid of that British voice in your head,” he added.
Brooker “dismayed” at Channel 4’s approach to “Black Mirror”
Brooker said Netflix’s approach contrasted sharply with Channel 4.
“Channel 4 wanted to see every single thing in advance and wouldn’t have even had to put in much money. They wanted to see every single storyline, every single script. It was just impossible and held the whole thing up. We were supposed to do the third series in 2013/14, which they effectively decommissioned,” he explained.
The British broadcaster was furious when Brooker’s company, House of Tomorrow, moved “Black Mirror” to Netflix. Channel 4 chief creative officer Jay Hunt accused the firm of flogging the show to the “highest bidder” and “ignoring the risk” Channel 4 took on it.
Brooker was upset by the rhetoric. “Really, I felt that we weren’t supported there. I was quite dismayed that we were made out to be greedy. It was all a bit unfortunate, but there’s no ill feeling,” he added.
The writer is already well into development on the fourth season of “Black Mirror.” Ironically, the idea of polarisation is weighing heavily on his mind. Although this is more to do with the lack of middle ground in modern politics, it’s clear he believes Netflix and Channel 4 were poles apart in their approach to the latest series of his dystopian tech drama.
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