Friday, 15 February 2008

My sitcom writing career part II


As a Junior Junior Researcher, I wrote a sitcom treatment and left it in my top drawer hoping my boss would find it when she was hunting for sweeties late at night. She did, loved it and dragged me to her office...


My boss, bless, was actually frothing with excitement for my odd idea mixing cartoons and reality (and this was many years ago, so it was dead original and that). She said she wanted to talk to writers, get them involved, I'd need to sign a deal, it could be a huge hit, I'd get an advance on sales as soon as I signed, Channel 4 would love it... my head was in a whirl as I ate an Executive Biscuit off the posh plates.

This was it, I was going to work in comedy. She wanted me to have a go at a script, just story ideas and constructs to start with. I said that I couldn't wait to get started... well, I'd have to, as I was editing tomorrow and then had to film a feature on Thurs and-

At that point, the boss leapt up (and as a six-foot-plus woman who was about four inches wide that wasn't an easy thing to do) and ran to the door of her glass-fronted office. She opened it, clapped her hands, looked at me then announced loudly

"Just to let you know, this man here has written a fucking GENIUS comedy idea and is to develop it for me and not do ANYTHING on your show for the foreseeable future, yes?"

And then folded her arms, smiled and told me to get to work on comedy.

I was in quite a good mood, as you can imagine. Sat at my desk and did some notes, thought a bit, looked like a GENIUS for a while. I hardly noticed my producer going in to see the boss.

Next day there was an envelope on my desk. It had a contract for the sitcom and a short note saying that due to the fact I was a "hard-working, dedicated and integral member of the team" I couldn't be spared from the show I worked on. However, I could have an afternoon a week to write comedy. Other writers would be found to work with me, as I "wasn't experienced in the scripting arena". I remember the last phrase particularly well. A scripting arena. Is that like the arena off of Gladiators, except with nerdy writers cracking one-liners to lions who pause and say as deadpan as possible "that's so funny...."

Anyhoo, I did some writing and the boss liked it. No other writers joined. The afternoon a week got eaten up with worky things, especially as I got promoted and started to write comedy links for the actual show on actual television I worked on.

It wasn't quite the end - six months in, the boss asked the gangly young presenter of the show I did to do some development work. Including on my sitcom. He went off and came back with many, many pages of neat, hand-written notes on the characters and scenarios. They were, in the main, really funny and clever, packed with visual gags. He hadn't actually written any script though, the point of his work, and then he got a new agent who was horrified he was writing a script for a sitcom for almost no money. He went off to do stand-up stuff, came back a few months later for series 2 of our silly games show, and my sitcom sat on the shelf, unfinished and unwanted.

I got the rights back after a year and have tried to sell it, or variations of it, for ten years, never succeeding (although getting meetings and great feedback about the idea). It's probably the right time to try again.

Oh, and that presenter? Regular readers will guess it was David Walliams. Bless. I have his scribblings in a box somewhere, must dig 'em out...

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