Nuzzle & Scratch are back for a third series on CBeebies. For the uninitiated and/or the over 6's, Nuzzle & Scratch are two idiotic, accident-prone puppet alpacas with two very funny series under their belts already.
Having written for series two, I can't wait to write more for these guys; comedy characters like this are a gift.
The process begins in typical telly fashion. After a meeting with the writing team round the table where we're briefed on the new show, the producer and script editor ask all the writers to submit one-line story summaries and the best ones will be commissioned, simple as that.
This is often the way things begin and is a very, very healthy first step to take whether you're writing your own totally original pilot script, or contributing to a commissioned show - can you describe the story in just one sentence? If not, it's almost definitely not simple enough - especially for preschool.
Here's the brief for Nuzzle & Scratch series 3: the show is subtitled "Frock 'n' Roll" and Nuzzle & Scratch have somehow found work assisting in the titular fancy-dress costume shop.
Every episode, they need to simply deliver two identical costumes to two identical twins, but every single time, Nuzzle & Scratch are distracted and end up trying to carry out some task or job related to the costumes (which they are now wearing themselves).
Clear as mud? Well welcome to the world of Nuzzle & Scratch. Think of the show as a furry and farcical hybrid of Mr. Benn, Open All Hours and Fawlty Towers aimed at 4-6 year olds and you should be fine.
So, back to the story pitch, and inspired by playtime with my own young sons at home, I suggest a story for police costumes that goes like this...
Nuzzle & Scratch arrive at the scene of a crime and meet a policeman who needs their help: - a priceless ruby ring has been stolen and the robber needs to be caught.
And that's it. One sentence and we have the costumes, (general) location, key prop, and additional characters and of course a simple story, brilliant! Time to pour a cuppa, pull the chair up to the keyboard and dive into the first draft, right?
Well, not quite. Feedback comes through from the script editor (drum roll please). He's happy a police story will work and I'm commissioned (Yes!), but the robber is a problem - the character's just too out and out naughty for CBeebies (Nooo!).
But just before I pace the room calling the script editor various names for throwing a huge spanner into the works of my beautifully simplistic storyline, I see from his email that his criticism is also constructive.
He suggests an alternative police story with a new direction... what if Nuzzle & Scratch discover an important parcel and escort it from A to B - and what if a Postman had lost that parcel and is constantly appearing in the background, trying to get it back? Nuzzle & Scratch leap to a completely wrong police conclusion that he's a naughty thief and chaos ensues.
Now although this is a totally new direction to my story pitch, the key to me understanding why is the following editor's note: how do Nuzzle & Scratch achieve a simple task in a policemen-like way?
Aha! So that's the heart of the show that only the script editor, who's living and breathing the format of the series across all 26 episodes, can know better than me as single episode writer.
In other words, he's got the bigger picture in his head - and his storyline makes sense: Nuzzle & Scratch don't have to literally help the police if they're dressed as such - or even realise they're helping anyone at all! Any successful task they complete is more often than not completely accidental - that's totally Nuzzle & Scratch.
The Postman now becomes, of course, an accidental antagonist and suspected parcel thief - allowing me to riff on the baddy theme I originally wanted in my script, but in a far funnier, pantomime way - with comic confusion at a simple enough level for the young audience to enjoy. Then at the end of the episode, everyone is revealed as goodies for the perfect preschool conclusion.
So there you have it - a hopefully helpful example of the work that goes into getting the storyline right first, before I even begin on the full draft of the script.
Because the script editor and I had agreed on the new, better story direction from the outset, the full script came together very quickly (with gags and scenes full of walkie-talkie jargon, handcuff slapstick and silly stake-outs all flowing easily onto the page), with just a couple of drafts needed before it was ready to shoot.
...And, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, for further evidence of this episode, then I politely refer you to exhibit A: the full episode script on this 'ere website and B: the short clip of the same programme - hope you enjoy it.
Watch Nuzzle & Scratch: Police Officers (written by Adam Redfern) on iPlayer.
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