Thursday, 17 April 2008

Daytime tv

With the gods of daytime off from C4 to an as yet unnamed new UKTV channel (see for details) it reminds of my limited forays into daytime tv.

I've mentioned being Junior Farm Researcher in the Cotswolds with Leslie Ash, doilies, sheep and lovely rolling countryside. But I haven't spoken about one of the biggest shows I had to write.

It was a few months before Channel 5 launched (it still had the prefix 'Channel' and was a number not a lower-case word). They'd asked a 'selected' group of independent production companies to come up with a daytime magazine show to run between 1pm and 3pm every day. The proposal said "to be 'This Morning' but in the afternoon". It then said it was a huge commission, and the annual budget certainly seemed like a lot of money.

Until you divided it by 250 shows per annum, 2 hours each, and it was a pittance. As in ten percent of the aforementioned R&J morning show's budget.

Our little indie had been asked to pitch, as our boss was old mates with the commissioning editor - she'd worked with him before. So the 'development team' had a meeting - ie me, the boss, her two financial partners (two er, larger than average-sized ladies) and the 'head of marketing' (a man married to one of the larger ladies).

I had to write the show in two weeks but no-one would agree on anything, from format to location to presenter to content... even the bloody name was a problem. And then our boss decided to take herself off on holiday for a week, right at the crucial moment. So me and the others cooked up a show we could at least partially agree on.

It was, to be blunt, a pile of old turds. Garnised with new turds. And piss sauce. A bland, boring, in-a-studio magazine show presented by two people of such unfamousness that I couldn't remember their names way back then never mind now. Although they looked nice. And were cheap. 

The price was the main factor - putting financial controllers in a creative position is a bad thing as they pitched a show that could be made for profit for peanuts. A show that was viable. Commercial. Feasible. Totally forgetting that no-one would watch such a bland blend of beige and b..b... the power of alliteration has failed me. It was that bad.

The boss returned the day before the pitch was due in, totally stressed up by a terrible holiday spent arguing with her son/family/hotel/airline... well, it wasn't nice. She read the show - carefully researched and put together by me - and hurled the sixty page document across her office and at the door. My desk was just outside. I heard the crunch and then saw the other 'development team' members scurry to their offices to hide until the wave of anger had subsided.

But I had a plan. Not perhaps a master plan, more of a minor plan. But a plan none the less.

When the boss summoned me in, staring and frothing with hatred at the idea she'd just read, I pounced first.

"I know you'd hate that idea, but the others were very keen on it. I couldn't do anything, they own the company with you, but they can be a little... erm..."

The boss jumped in at this point, snarling and wild-eyed.

"A little. Fucking. SHIT. Hmm?"

I ermed and ummed and then presented her with another sixty page programme treatment. It was a weird on-location thing presented by a strange-looking man I knew the boss liked, it was all over the place and formatted tightly, with the crew featuring heavily as in The Big Breakfast (cheap, funny and a winner with the C5 commissioning editor, as it was him who'd first greenlit the BB). It was manic, bright and far too youthy for a daytime slot.

And the boss loved it. Right down to the oh-so-up-it's-own-chuffer title. I'd called it 1to3for5. Geddddit? On between 1 and 3 on 5. Hahahahah bonk. That's my head falling off from laughing. Sigh.

The boss smiled and scribbled a few notes as she read. I stayed up all night rewriting, with the 'development team' ordering in pizza and cakes and Indian food (told you they were large) and cutting out pictures from magazines and pasting them in. No Photoshop back then, oh no. It was then off to print at 8am, me grabbing a couple of hours sleep before taking it to C5 myself to deliver it before the noon deadline.

I went on one of those taxi bikes, an absolute nightmare, and got off sweating and terrified. In the lift at the channel I bumped into the man delivering our then deadly rival Planet 24's proposal. It was a giant suitcase with expensive graphics all over it. Mine was a document with things cut out from Women's Realm and You magazine on it. I was too tired to care. And still full of takeaway food - hey it was free.

Mr Planet 24 (one of the drivers from the company actually) handed over the wheelie suitcase. Com. Ed. arched an eyebrow and said thanks. I then handed in ours, making some comment that I'm sorry it wasn't as exotic or well packaged as Planet's. Mr Com. Ed. smiled and said words to the effect of "on these budgets I can tell you we couldn't afford that show already". I toddled off happily and told the boss who roared with laughter, gave me fifty quid, and told me to take the rest of the day off and go out and celebrate that night. 

I think I went back to bed for the rest of the day.

And the punchline? Oh, nothing really. The contract went to one of C5's shareholding companies, a blander-than-bland thing with Gloria Hunniford chatting inanely to minor celebs in front of an audience of twenty pensioners. 

Hey ho, that's the scheme of things. I was quite pleased - no need to scrabble together to make a show that would be damned hard to deliver on price... beating Planet (in a way)... and the channel awarding the contract, in effect, to themselves so we didn't have a chance. 

The only thing that pissed me off was not getting 1to3for5 as a programme title on air...

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