Friday, 20 June 2008

How Not To Make A Sitcom

I've been trying to write a comedy show over the past few weeks. OK, so I've been doing other things, stuff that might actually pay my wages some day, but this idea for a sitcom has been churning away in the back of my head and I've finally put finger to keyboard and started to write it.

God knows if it'll be any good at all, and the chances of the People What Run Proper TV commissioning a sitcom from my babyshow company are miniscule, but I'm in one of those 'just give it a go' moods.

Except now, obviously, I'm avoiding the 'go' and blogging instead. It's because I've lost my chocolate bar. I wish that was an innuendo or allusion but, disappointingly, it's a simple fact.

My frankly illogical and pointless decision to try and write a sitcom - something that happens at least once a year - has reminded me of my long-dead cartoon sitcom about just-dead people. I'd just started my own company, came up with this idea, and set about raising some funds to make it.

And - what a break! - someone I'd worked with introduced me to a very rich man who wanted to fund comedy. Result, eh? Well, not really. Firstly, this man might have been very rich but he certainly wasn't going to give actual money to me without a fight. Meetings, parties, booze, meals - that was all fine, lots of lovely schmoozing in great places, but genuine money for scripts or characters or the existing-in-the-real-world items that might get a broadcaster interested in the show - nah...

Secondly, he was somewhat... er, slightly... now, how should I put it? Incredibly, astonishingly, overwhelmingly rude, arrogant, unfunny and loud. And, lastly but not leastly, he was disliked by almost everyone in the comedy industry - as in totally hated and bad-mouthed and cursed about. Until he'd turn up at the Groucho Club, card behind the bar, when everyone smiled and laughed at his puns and agreed to do reams of work for no money but more wine.

One such meeting - or 'meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeding' as he'd call it - had me and my techie co-company owner being picked over by an Animation Expert to see how and why our cartoon systems were so special. The truth was that they weren't, it was just we used computers and programs designed to create video game animation for the telly. And video game animators, who were a tenth of the price of proper ones.

We couldn't tell anyone that - we thought they'd copy us, and our paranoia was fuelled by lots of beer at 11am in the morning for a lunch at 2pm - so we made up loadsa shit. My mate said he hard-wired the computers himself. I had to stifle a giggle. The expert asked if he could see one. I said no, the software was secret. My mate hid his face behind the menu, pretending to cough to cover his laughter. The expert asked if we could bring a computer to his office, not even switch it on, just so he could see what we'd done to it. My mate said the computers couldn't leave our building, they were attached to the floor for 'stability'. I had to go to the toilet to laugh for ten minutes.

After my boss threatened to pull the plug on the whole thing Mr Rich Man finally promised some money. It turned up months late but it was something. In the meantime he got on with asking big-name writers and voices to do things for free. The people who wrote a pilot script have since written some mighty fine sitcoms. The voices in the show were even more famous then than they are now - and you'd recognise all their names today. The animation looked good for the time, if a little scratchy ten years' later.

But no-one bought the cartoon. Mr Rich Man mishandled the sales process appallingly, being all bolshy and salesman-y about it. That dun't work in the hallowed world of the meeeeja.

He got the then-head of C4 comedy (now Very Senior C4 Boss Person) in at the same time as the Sky head of comedy (now Very Senior BBC Comedy Person), and made them wait outside his office together. They smiled politely and then both rejected the show immediately. He went to the biggest comedy independent producer and boasted he could make the show himself. They said they were sure he could and therefore there was no need for them to be involved.

In desperation, I went to the head of ITV comedy on my own. She loved the idea, liked the pilot and script - yay! Then she asked to meet the backers, and we then sat through a disastrous meeting where Mr Rich Man said he didn't want any input from ITV as their comedy record was shit. So ITV said fine, they'd give no input and, obviously, no money either, and we never heard from them again.

It's easy to smile at the memory of the endless writers' meetings that would start with cocktails at noon and meander on all day. One such affair ended up with me, my comedy writer mate and a very old alternative comedian sitting on a balcony of someone's flat in Soho making up limericks. I have no idea who's flat it was but their fridge was well-stocked with fabulous wine.

But it was a grim and depressing time, to be honest, and has really scarred my view of the funtastic world of tv comedy.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Reality Show Clip Time

The title is from The Soup, the world's best tv show ever (see ) when host Joel McHale takes the piss out of the worst of America's reality shows. Well, that's the caption that pops up, but Mr McHale usually just looks into camera and screams "it's reaali'eee' hoe ipppp ime!!"

My thought today, with the meeja websites full of Apprentice bumper ratings news, Big Brother bullying rows and the like, is why... well, er, just... WHY?

Apprentice is massively popular - as well it should be, a well-produced show and a worldwide format. BB is less popular generally but hugely high-rating for that all important (to C4 and advertisers) yoot audience.

But I can't be arsed with either of them, and was wondering why.

BB first. My view is that the first series was genius - original, compelling, a good mix of people and a genuinely interesting premise. Series 2... well, fatigue set in and I thought I'd kinda seen it all before. And now it's up to series 9. Or 15 if you include the celebrity versions and that very odd thing they did last time instead of the celebrity thing.

The reason I find it unwatchable is simple. The contestants - and that's what they are, not 'housemates' - know the construct. They are aware that by being chosen to be on the show that they've made it. By the time they step out of that limo to enter the set - and that's what it is, a set, not a 'house' - they're famous. And that's what every spoddy yoot watching wants to be. Famous. Even if it's for being thick, like millionaire Jade Goody, the average young viewer watching just wants to be An Celebrity.

So there's no jeopardy at all in the format any more, as all the contestants have won. The meeja often forget or ignore the actual winner in favour of someone else (Ms Goody versus that Christian virgin man from a Scottish isle who disappeared after winning). The contestants will forever have the prefix "former Big Brother star" in front of their name. Someone somewhere will always recognise them. And that, to them and to the audience, is champion.

So what's the point of watching these people sit in a set dressing up, getting drunk, being split into groups and slavishly following the dictats of a bunch of producers in a darkened room, pretending it's all Very Important Indeed. When it's not. As the contestants in series one sang occasionally "it's only a game show". Bet that annoyed the producers no end.

Apprentice is different, in that it's all pre-recorded and the press, oddly, go along with the conceit of it happening sorta-kinda-now. The fact the Guardian do a live web blog when it's being broadcast is one of the oddest things I've ever encountered. There are preview tapes of the show available. Why watch it live and type stuff up like it's new? It's not. It's on tape.

In some ways this show is more harmful than the wannabe-Heat-cover-star mentality of BB. It encourages the idea that to succeed in business you have to be a right twat, mouthing corporate speak, destroying all others and being a sneaky, underhanded, evil arsewipe.

What a load of shite. Yes, in some businesses you need to be ruthless. But if you act like a total twunt all the time, no-one you work with will like you. And at some point in the future, when you go for an interview for a better job, the person in front of you will be someone you shafted previously. And they'll smile sweetly as they hire someone else...

The even funnier thing is Sir Alan Sugar being presented as this incredibly successful business guru. Er, right. SAS (as no-one abbreviates his name) runs a small company that doesn't really produce much of note. When did you last actually choose to buy an Amstrad product? You may have a Sky box with that brand on, but you get sent them for nowt when you subscribe. SAS runs a company no-one would actually choose to buy a product from. His brand name is worth as much as Saisho or Matsui, the two pretend names that Dixons and Currys used for their own brand rubbish cheapo tellies*

Amstrad's last products, that awful email phone and the anti-wrinkle zapper, are the sort of thing you see advertised in the back of Sunday supplements, like elasticated-waist fat pants and baths with doors in them. SAS makes lots of money, but that's from property he's accumulated - wisely and very efficiently, sure, but not exactly rocket science. Amstrad itself makes little profit.

But, oh no, working for him is like worshipping at the feet of a modern day God of business. Pffft. Loada shite.

So Apprentice doesn't work for me either as it's a bunch of over-gelled hateful sales people doing crappy challenges to get a pointless job they probably won't even take up. Where's the jeopardy? The contestants on this show are the BB contestants for a slightly upmarket and older demographic - being interviewed by Steve Wright on Radio 2 or the Mail, instead of Moylesy and the Star.

Or maybe I'm just getting old.

*Dixons and Currys purposely picked Japanese-sounding brand names for their own stuff as people liked buying Japanese brands, as they were seen as reliable and high-quality. Anyone who had the misfortune to own a Saisho tv or a Matsui hi-fi (my hand is in the air at this point) will know these were, to be frank, unreliable creap crap.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Best ever tv?

There was a bit of fuss recently in The Times when one of their reviewers described one Monday night as the best ever night of tv in ten years. I'd link to it but searching for 'best tv ever' doesn't really work.

Anyway, the poor tv reviewer was laughed at by all and sundry for his views. I must admit his choice of a Monday night was a bit poncey - all Dispatches, Panorama and some arts' programmes.

But he has a point.

Last Saturday night was a top tv treat, and no mistake. You can say what you like about those 'find-a-musical-star-and-advertise-the-musical-too' BBC One shows but they're good to watch, full of familiar toons and earnest new faces. And I'd Do Anything was very well made, the great Barry Humphries adding a layer of intellect to the constant Norton gags about Nancies.

So there was the final of that, with a sublime ep of Doctor Who in the middle, easily the best of the series so far. And boding so well for the next lot, as Little Mr Moffat who writ it will be in charge of the whole kit and caboodle when Russell T Ladyboy leaves.

Over on ITV1, there was the twelve-hour final of Britain's Got Talent, surely the only time in history Piers Morgan and talent have been billed together. But what a great show, reminding me why Antandec are the best presenters of live tv in the business today, looking utterly fantastic, great simple format and, yes, Simon Cowell doing what he does best. He's got three facial expressions - his "God, this is pants" face, his bored face and the double-take-look-of-shock-at-how-good-it is-after-initially-being-bored face.

He used all three over and over again. Amanda Holden only has one face, as it's been botoxed to hell, and cried slightly less than she did last year. Probably due to botoxing her tear ducts.

And what can you say about Piers Morgan? He's possibly the least likely ITV1 face ever, and joins Anne Robinson in the list of ex-journos with massive tv success to their name.

But again, a great show. The winning breakdancey boy will, er, not be the world's hugest star in my opinion, but great story and marvellous show.

And for the poncey ones, there was a repeat of Andrew Marr's peerless doc on modern Britain.

Top tellytastic night! And here's an odd fact - there were more people watching network tv in the UK (pop:60m) than in the USA (pop:360m I think) last Saturday, fifteen million alone watching Talent. And they say broadcast tv is dead.


PS: Eurovision obviously rumbles on. Dame Wogan Of Floraldance echos what was said last week on this very blog:-