Thursday 20 October 2011, 18:00
A year ago when Cheryl Taylor first suggested the Salford Sitcom Showcase to me, six sitcoms over three nights, it sounded interesting and fun... ten minutes before black out on scene one of 'Sandwiched' Hat Trick Productions' BBC1 sitcom and the opening performance of the Salford Sitcom Showcase...it seemed like lunacy.
Scripted comedy is a notoriously high stakes genre...failure is common and audiences are demanding and critical. We were putting six brand new comedies intended for television on in a theatrical style in front of 290 people, 120 of whom were some of the countries leading comedy industry suppliers... surely one of the toughest audiences around. Gulp.
'Be Our Guest' by Pippa Evans performed at the Salford Sitcom Showcase.
Even trying to explain what the Showcase would be to studio staff, directors, agents, producers and audience handlers has been difficult...it's a television meets theatre hybrid development thingy...yeah ?
In the end as creative director/ producer of the event attempting to move confidently toward the end goal, I clung to the thing I could guarantee... quality control of the scripts. Over 80+ scripts were submitted to be part of the showcase, of which the comedy commissioning team and myself shortlisted down to 12 from which Controller of comedy Cheryl Taylor chose six.
These were all terrific scripts, very different in style but all under sub heading v. funny. From a comedy of manners to mockumentary, family sitcoms, acerbic gag fests and fresh faced ensembles - these were great scripts some from some very experienced writers to first outings for the newest sitcom writers on the block.
All we had to do was serve these great scripts well and once the production teams were on board ,and the casting began in earnest and great names Like Ardal O' Hanlon, Les Dennis, Russ Abbott, Ronni Ancona, Adil Ray, Debra Stephenson, Sophie Thompson, Chris Ramsey, Pippa Heywood, Jason Cook, Pippa Evans, Paula Wilcox, Lucinda Dryzek, Eric Lampaert came on board, the stakes were raised and the showcases really started to build momentum.
It was a hair- raising week...lots of laughter, oversubscribed audiences, fantastic reaction from public and industry alike. I hope it will inform studio comedy development going forward but in the meanwhile...I've everything crossed for all six productions and in true Russ Abbott style if atmosphere has anything to do with it then we'll be seeing some of them on the traditional TV screens sometime soon.
Rebecca Papworth is Executive Producer for Comedy at the BBC.