The BBC College of Comedy was established in 2008 to select a group of writers early in their careers and accelerate their development through workshops with and mentoring by comedy experts. The college year ended with a showcase in March 2009, and of the scripts developed under the scheme, Sunday Lunchers by John Warburton made a real impact.
It was a show with a large cast, set in a pub at, oddly, Sunday lunchtime, and the script visited the various dramas taking place around the tables and in the booths. Among the cast was Joe Tracini from Coming of Age, playing the product of a sperm donation desperately in search of a father.
The piece was warmly received by the audience, and there was enthusiasm first from Lucy Lumsden, then the BBC's comedy commissioner, and subsequently from Danny Cohen, the Controller of BBC3.
However, Danny felt that the all-in-one-place, Sunday lunchtime setting was a bit limiting, and suggested that the show should get out and about more, following people's lives. We discussed with John a smaller cast so that the audience could focus on a more manageable group of people, and where physically the show might be set. We also focused on what the show was about in an overall sense, and what it should be called.
And that was the beginning of the journey which turned Sunday Lunchers into The Inn Mates, taking as the basis that it's a show about friendship, about relationships, and about finding your place in the world.
John first had a go at rewriting the original script, but it seemed to make more sense for him to write another one to the new brief rather than making the old one fit. The second script seemed so fresh and funny that we decided to import one strand from the original and make the second script the pilot.
We knew that we wanted Joe Tracini to reprise his role, but we also needed an unexpected and interesting actor to play his 'father'. It was gratifying both that Neil Morrissey liked it, and that he was free for our filming dates in May. Meanwhile, our casting priority was to find fresh, funny actors who, like the writers in the college, had done a bit but not a lot.
The results are now out in the world (online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcthree/2010/08/exclusive-watch-new-comedy-inn-mates-online-now.shtml) with a TV transmission at 9.30pm on Monday 9 August) and it's over to the audience to tell us how we did, and whether they would like to see more. The point of a pilot is to test things out, to see what works and what might not work, so we'll be eagerly waiting for comments.
Meanwhile, the second year of the college produced some excellent writing, some interesting projects, firm interest in the writers, but no pilot, although that would have been the icing on the cupcake.
Now, in its third year, we're running the scheme in a different way, with three targeted initiatives being planned. We're close to having everything in place, and I'll announce what's happening here as soon as I can.