The avid amongst you will know we are already well and truly stuck into submissions from the latest window, and that we have started out with comedy scripts. Out of the nearly 3000 submissions in total, not far off a third of them are TV and radio comedies – so a big chunk of the work for us that lies ahead. Our team of readers for the comedy chunk - a mix of regulars who can read across forms with those who are comedy-specialists - began the task with a welcome visit from the BBC’s Controller of Comedy Production, Mark Freeland. Mark talked about the kind of shows the various BBC channels have been commissioning, and the readers drew up a big list of current and recent British comedies as a checklist of what’s out there on the landscape. And then down to the task of ploughing through the scripts.

What the readers have noticed so far -

There are a lot of common set-ups – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since a very large proportion of the best comedies ever made might be described as a flat/house-share, or a workplace comedy. But what is it that makes your version of that archetype unique? Unfortunately that’s the unanswered question in many of the scripts…

Beyond this, the main problems tend to be one (or more – or all) of the following:
• No clear protagonist – or ensemble shows where the characters aren’t clearly defined/differentiated from one another
• No real motivation, purpose, conflict or dilemma for the characters
• Not enough development/detail in the character writing
• Not enough story and action
• Shows that don’t really seem to be ABOUT anything
• On the nose dialogue – and lots of it

Before any of you leap into an impassioned response to any of this – yes, there are always going to be examples of current or recent shows made that (from your point of view) commit the same errors, so why on earth were they made while yours isn’t? It’s not our remit to defend or justify what’s gone before – only to try our hardest to spot scripts and writing and writers that interest, engage, excite and entertain us. One thing that gets mentioned a lot when talking about comedy is just how subjective a thing it is. What makes one person laugh, leaves another cold. How do you assess anything when this is true? Well we ask our readers to think and assess beyond their own tastes – and if they feel they just can’t with any given script, to pass it to another reader. And we remind ourselves that we are looking for writers that have potential over and above ideas that might get made. We’re looking for that fresh spark of what a writer does with a character, world, idea, situation. We’re not looking for perfection. We’re not expecting to read finished, produce-able scripts. We just want to be willingly transported beyond page 10 through to the end, and feel like we’ve never quite been on that particular journey before.

Anyway, there are many more scripts to read and a very long way to go. Comedy is a serious business. And subjective. But we’re giving everything a fair go and hoping to find some gold in there. And you’ll be reassured to know that the readers are finding some scripts that do look quite shiny.

Comments

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  • Comment number 36. Posted by Monumental

    on 10 Jul 2013 22:33

    I know which one was Ben Elton's now. The Wright Way.

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  • Comment number 35. Posted by Monumental

    on 10 Jul 2013 20:16

    denbocheatalot - which was Ben Elton's?

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  • Comment number 34. Posted by denbocheatalot

    on 10 Jul 2013 13:35

    So? Ben Elton's comedy (sic) has been axed by the BBC. No surprise there for anyone I hope? And the sitcom about a lesbian vet has also been axed - no surprise there then everybody? But Jo Brands hospital sitcom has been axed also - very surprised there then.

    I'm pleased in one way and yet saddened in another, that Ben Elton & 'the vet' have been axed; pleased because I feel comedically vindicated and saddened because there are so many talented comedy writers out there who would have done a far better job had they been given the chance.

    And if the BBC do want to give them a chance just let me know I can give you a list of about twenty who could smash it.

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  • Comment number 33. Posted by Dunnoboutthat

    on 22 May 2013 12:20

    Thanks for that. Reassuring to hear. I guess I was just sort of needlessly worried might be penalised for for not really knowing which box what I was writing actually fits into as yet, if any. But it sounds as if as long as it's all my own work and I'm not standing in a corner somewhere pretending to be Dickens, or Napolean Boneparte, I should be okay. :)

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  • Comment number 32. Posted by Paul Ashton

    on 21 May 2013 17:12

    @ dunnoboutthat - good writing gets through the sift, we don't use the genre categorisation to judge work, only to help us organise how we go about assessing it. It can be a bit odd when a writer has clearly mis-respresented their work - and even odder when people tick a box saying it's all their own original work when they've clearly sent in a straight Dickens adaptation. But in the end, good original writing will out.

  • Comment number 31. Posted by Dunnoboutthat

    on 21 May 2013 12:52

    I take your point about the structure of comedy dramas (eg last Tango in Halifax, cold feet etc.) making them more like drama than traditional sitcom. But I was just wondering whether many romantic/ or comedy dramas make it through the sift if they are categorised as drama and therefore up against more serious, weighty, issues-based drama scripts. Just obsessing about what category to send my script in under next window and worrying might make it look a bit light and fluffy in comparison to say a Jimmy MCGovern style state of the nation piece iyswim. On the other hand better odds statistically speaking than if it goes in the comedy category, so who knows...

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  • Comment number 30. Posted by Monumental

    on 20 May 2013 07:55

    Phew.

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  • Comment number 29. Posted by Paul Ashton

    on 20 May 2013 07:16

    Oops - that should have said we separate equal opportunities forms from submissions on receipt (not cover sheets)

  • Comment number 28. Posted by Paul Ashton

    on 20 May 2013 05:26

    @richard @fadein - can't do that I'm afraid, we separate cover sheets from submissions on receipt. Anecdotally, we usually end up with an unpredictable mix at the end of it. It's probably usually the case that we don't usually have many very young writers in the final room, in part I suspect because many writers don't hit their stride straight away. Though there's always at least one writer who will ruin that theory each time round.

  • Comment number 27. Posted by Richard

    on 19 May 2013 23:55

    @Fadeln - Why so? I thought it might make for some excruciating reading. I'm a masochist, you see.

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