Line of Duty: BBC made U-turn on award-winning drama after rejecting proposal

Line of Duty: Nigel Boyle teases ‘talks’ about new series

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The National Television Awards (NTAs) will get underway tonight. The evening is being hosted by comedian and Masked Singer UK presenter Joel Dommett, succeeding David Walliams in the role. TV stars from up and down the nation will gather at London’s O2 arena to find out if they have won their respective awards.

Leading the way tonight will be BBC crime drama Line of Duty with four nominations, in the ‘Returning Drama’ category and three of the main stars all up for the ‘Drama Performance’ award.

Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar and Martin Compston will compete with David Tennant and Olly Alexander for the top gong.

However, life inside the police anti-corruption unit AC-12 almost never made it to air.

After the sixth series finished in April, it was named the UK’s most-watched drama series of the new millennium.

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A record-breaking finale saw a staggering 15.24 million watch the broadcast within a week of its initial airing ‒ with 12.8 million of those tuning in on the night.

Series creator Jed Mercurio recalled the difficult journey Line of Duty had to take to reach our screens in a radio interview last year.

He explained to the RadioTimes that BBC One turned his pitch down, which explains why it first aired on BBC Two in 2012.

He said: “Maybe there were reservations that something about police corruption might be problematic for a mainstream audience.

“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.”

Although Mr Mercurio did not disclose who knocked it back, he later explained that they did not face any consequences for overlooking his idea.

He continued: “The fact is that the controllers aren’t accountable. 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.”

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Executive producer Simon Heath also revealed that the Beeb turned down the show for their flagship channel as it “wasn’t a great time for drama”.

At the time Line of Duty was pitched, “around 2008 or 2009”, he said: “BBC drama was seen, at best, as a loss leader by the broadcaster.”

Mr Mercurio admitted in a 2018 that the idea drifted away from the norms of a police show. 

He explained: “If you look at the TV landscape, it is sometimes quite difficult to sell an idea based [simply] on the fact that it is important in the real world.

“So many police series are the drama of reassurance ‒ where honest, tenacious cops catch bad guys and the bad guys go to prison.”

Line of Duty eventually moved over to BBC One in 2017, at the start of the fourth series, after smashing BBC Two viewing records.

Mr Mercurio’s show was one of the first crime dramas to cover the dark side of British policing, where the most heinous villains are the ones in uniform.

Following the conclusion of the sixth series earlier this year, fans have been left wondering if it will return for a seventh series.

Martin Compston, who plays Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott in the series, told the Shrine of Duty podcast that the cast don’t know if it will return.

He said: “But that’s nothing different for us. Jed always takes his time.”

The BBC has not yet announced commission of a seventh series. Previous seasons have aired in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021 – although the 2021 series was pushed back due to filming delays amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Mercurio said in an interview with Den of Geek in May that it’s “too soon” to know if Line of Duty will return.

The National Television Awards is live on ITV at 7:30pm tonight. 

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