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.