Thursday, June 02, 2005

Comedy - Sitcom Writers At War

I like to think of writing as a noble, elegant and largely solitary pursuit. When a writer does go to meet other humans they may also be writers and, unencumbered by professional jealousy, they have the satisfied understanding that they are in accord and privileged to share conversation with another writer (as opposed to a Labour Party press officer, a convicted baby smuggler or Princess Michael of Kent).

Unfortunately, writing is now about going out into the world with a stack of paper under your arm marked "writing"; finding someone else with a similar stack of paper; and then kicking each other violently in the shins. The one who drops their stack of paper first is clearly not as good a writer as he thought he was.

I'm talking about a tendency to make writers battle it out head-to-head (or head-to-head-to-head-to-head... as the case may be).

I was reminded of this by a press release from the USA about Bravo TV's Situation:Comedy.

Bravo's new series will allow viewers to go behind the scenes of national television as neophyte writers will earn the opportunity to produce and sell a sitcom - but the eavesdropping audience will give the final thumbs-up by choosing the winning entry that will be broadcast on Bravo.

[...] the lucky five writers were flown to Los Angeles, where they were thrown into the deep end of the creative pitching pool. They then submitted their ideas to NBC network executives who green-lighted two of the scripts to go into production as 15-minute presentations [...]

The final two "wannabe" writers (or writing teams) were thrust immediately into the high-energy, high-stress world of television production. Viewers will be with them as they meet their staffs and find that they have to share many of their key staffers.

In addition, audiences will watch the entire process through casting, set design, rewrites, rehearsals, taping and post-production. In the end, they will see each completed presentation and can vote online for the sitcom they believe should get a shot for broadcast on television. The winner will receive a cash prize of $25,000 and exclusive representation for one year with a major Hollywood talent agency to further help launch a successful writing career in film or television.

I think it's time I took up knitting.

This form is already with us in Britain where the BBC's Last Laugh competition will involve the winners in television appearances. In fifty years we've managed to conjure up Hancock, Steptoe & Son, Fawlty Towers and the mighty Cilla's World of Comedy without reducing writers to dancing media monkey-boys.

The next writer to join the ranks of Galton & Simpson could be someone you first saw completing an obstacle course to win a treacle tart or soaping their genitals in a glass walled latrine.

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