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.

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