'There is a lot of talent out on the streets'
By Kate Bulkley
Monday September 10th, 2007
Dubplate Drama, Channel 4's late-night soap, is probably the only drama on terrestrial TV that's aimed at Britain's disenfranchised urban youth
If scriptwriter and director Luke Hyams is right, then there is a good chance you will not want to read this article. It is likely that you are white, middle-class with a taste for primetime programmes, or the latest information on mainstream television celebrities.
Hyams's show is called Dubplate Drama (DPD) and the second series will screen late night on Channel 4 later this month, as well as on MTV and MySpace.com. It is a half-hour, soap-style show, but the subject matter, the characters, the storylines are so far from traditional TV fare that they might as well be in a foreign language for the majority of UK television viewers.
But for Hyams and his partners, producer Louis Figgis (son of film director Mike) and executive producer Sam Conniff, Dubplate Drama is the most exciting, the most socially aware and the most inspirational TV show that they can make. And, crucially, it is probably the only drama series on terrestrial television this autumn that directly addresses disenfranchised urban youth without patronising them.
The show has a loyal audience. The first series of Dubplate Drama went out in 2005 and despite its late-night slot, got peak ratings of 480,000. The second series, set against a soundtrack of street music called grime and dubstep - a hybrid of step, hip-hop and drum'n'bass - continues with the theme of stories from the streets, which involve young, predominantly black, kids living and breathing the London music scene, and their battles with the drug culture that surrounds them. It is innovative because the characters use the language of urban rap, the actors are not professionals and the storyline denouements are decided by the audience. The make-up of the show might sound more than a little niche, but Hyams, Figgis and Conniff have been evangelistic about constructing a drama that reaches out across social barriers and also into reality.
And it is nothing if not timely. With the headlines full of stories about gangs and drugs-related shootings, it is time to address these issues and this audience in a way that will reach them. "It's really about the negative portrayal of young people from this demographic in the media, and how we demonise them when actually there is an awful lot to celebrate and a lot of talent out there," says Conniff, who is also the co-founder of Livity, a marketing agency that specialises in the youth market and includes a non-profit charity which has been praised by Gordon Brown for its work on social enterprise issues.
DPD aims to be provocative and offers alternative endings to dilemmas faced by the characters involving issues such as bullying, drug use, depression, homelessness and teenage pregnancy. Viewers are asked to vote online or by text message to decide the endings. One of DPD's episodes revolves around the real pirate radio station Rinse FM, while another features ex-BBC TV presenter and outspoken conspiracy theorist David Icke. The show even has guest appearances from real rap personalities such as MC Shystie.
The ChildLine charity has been consulted in order to make the storylines feel authentic. "It's about street culture and the DIY music business and how it relates to these kids' lives," says Hyams, who has been involved in the urban music scene since he was thrown out of school at 14. A career in TV beckoned after he attended Youth Culture Television, a charity youth training project for young people interested in the media.
All its makers want is for DPD to demonstrate a clear social conscience while being a watchable TV show for the rap generation.
What Hyams, 27, has found, though, is that traditional TV makers, advertisers and viewers have been difficult to get on board in a way that allows him and his team to make the show they want, and the budget of about £500,000 for 12 half-hours reflects that - it is minuscule compared to a typical drama budget.
This series will benefit from a fixed time in the C4 schedule at 12.40pm on Thursdays with a slot on E4 at weekends as well (series one went out at a variety of different times, and at the weekend only). "This is indicative of the confidence we have in the project," says Neil McCallum, commissioning editor of T4 and Music at Channel 4, who also commissioned series one. "Dubplate Drama is clearly not as accessible as a teatime soap. Although it has a certain amount of humour, it covers some really dark issues and has dialogue from a particular part of society, but the issues that the cast face, like who comes first - family or friends - and staying on the right side of the law, these are relevant to all of us."
Hyams, who since last month has been the head writer on Bebo's online drama Kate Modern, says he is reconciled to the fact that DPD is not likely to make its creators a lot of money, but is glad that the second series has made it to air.
"I love this show and this world. I love this kind of music and I have done since I was given my first NWA tape when I was 10 years old," says Hyams. "It's that passion that keeps me working on it."
· DPD begins its second series on C4 on September 20