Jed Mercurio has revealed Line Of Duty was almost rejected by the BBC amid fears a series documenting police corruption ‘might be problematic for a mainstream audience’.
The screenwriter, 54, told how he had to fight tooth and nail for some of his work to be made and claims the television executives who initially turned the drama down now have ‘selective amnesia’ and ‘pretend it didn’t happen’.
Mercurio suggested there are still many senior figures at the BBC who don’t care for his work, despite Line Of Duty drawing in 10.6 million viewers during its fifth series last year and his other show Bodyguard proving to be a runaway hit.
Speaking in an interview with Radio Times about the commissioning process at the BBC, he said: ‘Maybe there were reservations that something about police corruption might be problematic for a mainstream audience.’
He added: ”There’s selective amnesia about things like that. Everybody, and every TV commissioner or TV executive, who was involved in rejecting Line Of Duty now pretends that it didn’t happen.’
The police drama – which follows an anti-corruption unit in the police force – premiered on BBC Two in 2012, before bosses cottoned on to the fact it deserved prime-time positioning on BBC One.
Mercurio said: ‘That was something that was passed on to me by the drama department, attempting to be constructive about it and therefore giving us hope that BBC Two might be a better home for us.
‘But the fact is that the controllers aren’t accountable.’
Jed fumed at one particular executive at the BBC for the near-miss, which almost meant the BBC’s biggest drama never came to fruition.
‘That particular controller never had to justify her decision. It didn’t affect her career, that she turned down something that went on to be the biggest BBC One drama currently returning,’ he added.
Jed insisted he’s not ‘bitter’ about this, given that he has had the last laugh, but suggested that many execs at the BBC perhaps a tad sour towards him and his work.
He also claimed that those responsible like to sweep under the rug that they were poor judges of talent.
‘There’s selective amnesia about things like that. Everybody, and every TV commissioner or TV executive, who was involved in rejecting Line Of Duty now pretends that it didn’t happen,’ he said.
‘It’s not that I seethe, we’re in a fantastic position and I’m certainly not bitter.
‘But if you consider all the other projects that have been rejected over the years, the opportunities missed, and the ones that still are rejected, then of course it’s disappointing.
‘You worry that something that you’ve worked on and you believe in is never going to see the light of day.’
He claims that his show Bodies – which ended in 2006 – was the last time he was paid attention to until he presented Line Of Duty to the BBC in 2012.
Despite the cop show gaining legions of fans, featuring notable guest starts and currently shooting a sixth series, there were doubts when he came to pitch Bodyguard.
‘Between Bodies, which finished in 2005-2006, until Line Of Duty aired in 2012, all the original series that I’d created had been rejected,’ he recalled.
‘Just before Line Of Duty was rejected by the BBC One controller, there was another drama, a medical drama for BBC One, that had a big star attached to it. That was rejected.’
The current Head Of Drama, Piers Wenger, championed Bodyguard, however, which went on to be lauded by fans worldwide.
‘Some people liked it within the BBC and some didn’t. It was on a knife edge. Piers could have stopped it because of that,’ he said.
‘I’m very grateful for the support I get from some people within the BBC.
‘I feel a certain sense of loyalty towards them and I enjoy collaborating with them, but there are plenty of people within the BBC who aren’t fans of my work, and people I wouldn’t take material to.’
Jed claims that there is still a class issue within the corporation – often regarded as an Old Boys’ Club and painted as somewhat ludicrous by satirical comedy series W1A.
‘A lot of people who are involved in making decisions have gone through the same kind of background, been to the same universities, even to the same school,’ said Jed, who is from a working class Lancashire-based family.
‘Then you have a situation where someone like me comes from a working-class background. I didn’t go through any kind of creative training. I came at things from the outside.’
Of the current still-on-hold sixth season of Line Of Duty, Jed shared: ‘We’re still discussing it. We shot for four weeks pre-lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic.
‘At that point we were shooting a representation of life as it was, there was no social distancing, no mask wearing. Clearly that’s not the world we’re currently in, but what no one knows is how long we are in this fight.’
Of working with stars Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, and Adrian Dunbar, Jed added: ‘We all feel very fortunate and privileged that Line Of Duty has gone on as long as it has.
‘We’ve shared the ups and downs of the series and we pull in the same direction creatively. We go out for a drink and a curry together and flesh out the characters’ journeys.
‘I make some notes, and the next morning I’ll do some script revisions. Curry conferences if you like.’
Last year, Line Of Duty earned its place in British television history as one of the five most-watched dramas of the decade.
Line Of Duty’s nail-biting 90-minute series finale hooked a sizeable audience of 12.1 million viewers, according to figures published by Barb
Its enviable ranking placed the show behind such ratings juggernauts as Bodyguard, Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey.