Newsjack: Special Guests

Tuesday 3 January 2012, 11:11

Dan Tetsell Dan Tetsell

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Hello. Apologies for missing a week - I was off in Bristol doing some acting and then I lost the email with my login details. Also, I'm only half way through series one of Mad Men so something had to give. Anyway, to make up for my absence, I promise my next blog will contain at least 75% more bullish opinion.

This one, though, I'm going to turn over to wiser heads. When I started this blog I asked a few writers I knew who'd been through the topical sketch mill for any advice they'd give if they were in my position. Well now, through the magic of cut-and-paste and formatting they are.

We start with Laurence Howarth. One half of Radio 4's Laurence & Gus (but I'm not saying which half), Laurence has written for, among others, Armstrong & Miller, Dead Ringers, Omid Djalili, Mitchell & Webb, Look Away Now as well as his own sitcoms Rigor Mortis and Safety Catch and the granddaddy of all topical radio shows Weekending.

Be careful of writing in the subjunctive. Not in the sense of using the subjunctive (it's a perfectly good mood) but in the sense of writing something that might work, that could be funny, that may fly if it gets a good rewrite or is really well performed etc. If you're struggling to think of a really good idea, it's tempting to alight on a mediocre one and work on that in the hope that it may eventually, somehow turn into something really good. Such ideas rarely do. Better to wait for the really good idea and then write in the indicative, i.e. a sketch that does work, is funny and will fly. Easier said than done, mind.

If this was an Alan Yentob documentary I'd fly to New York for the next interview. As it is, I just sent a friend an email.Danny Robins, as well as being a comedian, presenter and art panel pundit, is my long term comedy partner. We've done loads. You can trust him.

Beginnings and ends are the hardest. Go for unpredictability if you can and have a killer punchline - don't let it fizzle out, even if the beginning and middle are good, sketches with bad ends always get cut.

Keep it lean and mean. Look at every line and see if it justifies it's place in there comedically. A short and very funny sketch is better than a longer quite funny sketch.

Arial 12 point. It's the professional sketch-writer's font of choice. Times New Roman is for people who don't know how to work their computer properly and Comic San Serif is for the dangerously mad.

See, Arial 12pt. I said you could trust him. Since I asked Simon Blackwell (The Thick of It, The Old Guys, Peep Show) his opinion, he's been nominated for an Oscar, so hark unto this:

Always rewrite when you're asked to, and, unless you have a huge objection, in the way you're asked to. Most of what's in your first draft won't get broadcast, and that's a good thing.

Finally, Gareth Gwynn is one of the Radio Entertainment department's staff writers and has helped read / rewrite for every episode of Newsjack - as well as working on The News Quiz, The Now Show and I Guess That's Why They Call It The News. He's chosen to express the Newsjack submissions he read in the form of a graph.

Next time: Why Sketch Writing Is Like Jazz. No, come back, where are you going? It is. It is like jazz.

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    Comment number 1.

    The graph is interesting and so was the discussion in the previous blog (Newsjack Uncut (Actually no, that would be about an hour long and full of mistakes) about the process that sketches go through.

    I don't suppose there is any chance of you doing a podcast of a meeting where the team are discussing what sketches to feature and what not to? From a writer's perspective, the kind of insight would be really valuable. Perhaps it could be a few highlights from Tuesday - where most of the action seems to happen?

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    Comment number 2.

    Since you are dolling out the information, I have a question: what does "Through to next stage" mean?

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    Comment number 3.

    It would be helpful to know if anything is hitting anywhere near the spot. I'm getting a bit dispirited now.

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    Comment number 4.

    Ariel is a bad version of Helvetica, why not just that? It is true that nobody sensible uses Courier though, there's no advantage unless you really want to pretend your expensive laptop is an old typewriter.

    I like the pie chart. I'm sure my writing falls into several of those at a time.

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    Comment number 5.

    How about an example from each of the pie chart area except the offensive one?

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    Comment number 6.

    If that guy's got time to do a pie chart, he's clearly got time to read more sketches! I say we increase the number of sketches we're allowed to submit next series to six. Or even nine.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 8.

    @Joel - the podcast is an interesting idea, I'm not sure we can do it though. I love a writers' room, there's no atmosphere like it, but obviously a large part of what is said would be unbroadcastable on legal (and moral) grounds. More worrying for the writers involved would be the gags that fail going out for public consumption.

    @Sebastian Meyer - the 'next stage' is where I come in. It takes around 20 man hours to read everything that comes in on Monday, so I only seriously look at 50 or so sketches. The completist in me would love to read everything but it's not physically possible.

    @JR - don't get dispirited. The tyranny of scale makes individual feedback impossible so apologies if it feels like you're throwing you heart into a pit every week. If I could solve one problem for the mooted third series of Newsjack it would be the feedback process. If it counts for anything, feel free to curse my name and put me on a list of enemies. At least look at it like this - a writer has to deal with rejection at every stage. Newsjack is just one show, one set of opinions. Don't let not getting on this show put you off. If it does, you were never going to make it.

    @escalinci - don't start with the Helvetica heresy. We had a Comic Sans in today. The horror, the horror.

    @Cathode - we can't put up rejected sketches.

    @AspieBoy, @Valentine Ambrose - all graph work done on GG's own time, I assure you. Tell you what, next week you can send in up to 100 sketches each. There'll be no one here to read them obviously.

    Dan

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    Comment number 9.

    Thanks Dan. I'm working on it.

 

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