It's a Magical Time for TV Drama, and These Ads Explain Why

James Marsh directs Uncommon's new ITV spots

Politics aside, this isn't a bad time to be living in. To start, the TV is great; we're spoiled with epic storytelling.

But that also raises the stakes for stories we're willing to spend time on. Why settle for a mediocre rerun of Friends when Sex Education's just come out, all shiny and ready to binge-watch? We can afford to discriminate in ways that would've been unimaginable 10 years ago. 

With this in mind, British network ITV has released "Great Characters Make Great Drama," a campaign that reinforces its "More Than TV" brand positioning. Conceived by Uncommon Creative Studio, the work features two ads, "The Patriarch" and "The Guvnor." Each underlines the same idea—all stories are too short for bad characters—through the prism of familiar archetypes. 

"The Guvnor" features Brenda Blethyn as Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope from ITV series Vera. She's a no-nonsense older woman, fustily crossing a beach in protective booties. 

"So there's an old lady on your telly, and she's not playing someone's mam. She's a copper. Ooh, look out! She's only in charge!" she mutters, even as she puts her rubber gloves on. 

ITV 'Great Characters Make Great Drama' - The Guvnor

This is tricky stuff—finding the balance between describing an archetype, while continuing to embody one. It's like having one foot inside the fourth wall, and the other just beyond it. 

Adroit shooting, attentive writing and sharp acting unite to get this conceit to land. Even as Vera describes what's special about her particular type, she completes her delivery without an inch of pressure as a forensics setup blossoms around her. 

The lines themselves easily also evoke Dame Judi Dench or Maggie Smith; it's a rare moment when you can see an archetype's essence, but also its many faces. 

"The Patriarch" is just as masterfully played, this time by actor Roger Allam, reprising Detective Inspector Fred Thursday from ITV crime drama Endeavor. 

ITV 'Great Characters Make Great Drama' - The Patriarch

Moving through the vestiges of a confrontation—heavily, and as though toward his inevitable death, and it's all for us, but probably also our fault in ways we're only beginning to understand—DI Thursday says, "You will love me. I remind you of your own dad … or the one you wish he'd been. You'll always find me at the front line." 

We believe him, right to the end, when he gives his last soliloquy. "Find the characters you love, and be with them. The mothers, the lovers … the fathers. Because all our stories are too short for bad characters." 

Max Richter's score, "On the nature of Daylight," brings dramatic gravity to "The Patriarch." Richter is cagey about commercial use of his work, but apparently gave ITV special dispensation after seeing the ad. 

"These characters live beyond the screen, emphasizing the power great TV can have. This work is about provoking people to look again at ITV," says Uncommon co-founder Nils Leonard. 

The ads were directed by film and documentary director James Marsh, whose work includes The Theory of Everything, Man on Wire and The Night Of. His camera eye can be felt keenly here, transforming a couple of minutes into cinematic eternities. 

"Great Characters Make Great Drama" went live this morning on TV, digital and in cinemas. Radio executions, also performed by ITV talent, will launch over the next month; the campaign will extend through 2019. 

"The work launching today are the first in a series, which will later extend to other genres, featuring two of our great ITV drama characters, and the distinguished actors who bring them to life on screen," promises ITV chief marketing officer Rufus Radcliffe, all in the interest of ensuring "our marketing and branding reflects the creativity and energy at the heart of our business, and demonstrates the emotional power of our content." 

CREDITS
Campaign Name: Great Characters Make Great Drama. More than TV. 
Client: ITV
Chief Marketing Officer: Rufus Radcliffe
Director of Viewer Marketing: Paul Ridsdale
Head of Marketing - Brand Project: Sian Jones
Director of Social Purpose: Clare Phillips
Creative Agency: Uncommon Creative Studio
Media Agency: Goodstuff
Production Company: Pulse Films
Director: James Marsh
Executive Producer: Lucy Kelly
Producer: George Saunders
DOP: Benoit Delhomme
Editor: Sam Sneade @ Speade
Post Production: The Mill
Colorist: Dave Ludlam
Music Supervision : Jay James & Lius Almau @ Soundtree
Sound design : Henning Knoepfel @ Soundtree
Music for 'The Patriarch': Max Richter's 'On the Nature of Daylight' – Universal 
Music for 'The Guvnor': Abel Korzeniowski's 'Sunset' – Chester Music Ltd
Media Agency: Goodstuff

Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.