Newsjack Uncut (Actually no, that would be about an hour long and full of mistakes)
So, the first show of the new series has been written, re-written, collated, re-written again, rehearsed, performed, edited and broadcast so this seems as good a time as any to start this series of blogs aimed at giving you an insider's view of the ravening script-hungry beast that is Newsjack. You can tell I'm an insider through my use of hipster, cutting-edge industry jargon like 'show' and 'series'.
For fear of sounding like an anonymous alcoholic, I'm Dan Tetsell and I am the Newsjack script editor. Though I can't give you the secret code to the door marked 'success' - only Jonathan Ross knew it and he's dead to us now - I will try and tell you as much as I can about the process behind the final broadcast show and what we're looking for from our non-commissioned submissions.
For now, let's run through the Newsjack schedule.
As you'll know if you've read our writers' brief (and if you want to send stuff in, you really should) the deadline for sketch submissions is midday on Mondays. We get around 300-400 emails a week and sometimes more, so that's a big pile to get through but, and I can't stress this enough, everything gets read. If you send it, we will read. Newsjack wouldn't exist without its open-door submissions, so it's in our interest to make sure that nothing get missed. As I may have mentioned - everything gets read. Everything. Gets. Read. Oh, would you look at that, I can stress it enough.
What we're left with by around 5pm on the Monday are 80 or so of the best sketches. This is the selection that gets passed on to me and which I then do another pass on - putting them into 'Yes', 'No' and 'Hmmm?' piles - so that by the 10am Tuesday morning meeting we have a pretty strong idea about which news stories we've got covered and which ones we haven't. The Tuesday meeting for commissioned writers is essentially to plug the gaps left by the submissions. Maybe a story has broken that morning or maybe nothing we've had in has really cracked the best comic angle.
Tuesday is taken up with getting as many sketches as possible into as good a shape as possible. Pretty much everything gets rewritten - some sketches more than others. With a show with so many different writers (we got over 70 new writers on air during the first series) my main job is to find, and fit things to, the Newsjack tone. Also, some things could just be funnier. Though I do the bulk of any rewriting that needs doing, sometimes I get the writer of the sketch to do it themselves (particularly if they've had something on before or I feel we're tonally simpatico) or I hand it over to Gareth Gwynn and John Luke Roberts, the Radio Entertainment department's staff writers.
While for most of Tuesday it feels like we've got no show, at about 4pm it all suddenly starts coming together and what looks almost like a show looms up at us out of the fog. The job on Wednesday morning is to finalise that shape. The idea is to go into a rehearsal with the cast at around 1.30pm with about 50 minutes worth of material. This does mean that some sketches that we've done several passes on can fall at this hurdle. Again we may write some last minute sketches to address something that's happened overnight or that morning (though Hoon and Hewitt helpfully decided to shoot themselves in the foot just ten minutes after we'd printed the scripts) or decide that a sketch could be held over for another week - particularly if it's about a news story that's going to bubble away for a while or if it's less urgently topical in it's subject matter.
The producers, our invaluable production co-ordinator, the cast and myself meet in the bowels of Broadcasting House and read the script through once. As I said, at this point the script can be around the 50 minute mark. The aim is to record about 40 minutes, so after the rehearsal there is a quick script meeting between myself and the producers about what needs trimming, punching up or cutting entirely. This can be the most brutal part of the rewriting process. It's only when you hear it read that you can really spot a script's weaknesses. That sketch? Needs to be half as long. That joke? Doesn't work. Replace it or cut it. Any line changes or cuts the actors amend on their scripts by hand, anything more complicated or radical I type up and reissue the pages.
There's then just enough time to rehearse on mic with the sound effects and music, make some final script tweaks, have a small sandwich (maybe they'll get bigger now Ross has gone) and a pre-show wee before the audience come in and it's time to see if any of our calls pay off. Ideally next week the media won't have spent all day warning everyone not to leave their homes and we'll get more than 50 people.
The show is edited on the Thursday morning using scissors and chewing gum before being fed into the giant robot who lives in the Radio 7 basement. To be honest, I have nothing to do with the show once the recording's over so I may have some of those final details wrong.
OK, right, that's how the show works from our end. I aim to look in more detail at each part of the process - and your part in the process - in later blogs but for now I'll give you the most basic of basic advice for getting on Newsjack.
- Keep it short. A sketch doesn't want to be more than three pages in radio layout (of which more in the next blog).
- Keep it simple. At heart, a sketch is a single idea. You can, and must, fit as many jokes into it as you can but the central premise has to be strong and clear.
- Listen to the show. You really can tell who's heard the show and who hasn't. Go on get that podcast
- Come and see the show. We record every Wednesday at Broadcasting House in London. Tickets are free and here. Not only is it more fun than sitting at home on your own, you'll also get an idea of what works in front of a live audience and get a feel for our cast.
- Keep the faith. If you don't get something on, it's not a personal judgement on you. There are other shows and other chances. "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better".
That's right, always leave 'em with a maudlin Beckett quote - it's the third rule of comedy. The first two being a Fight Club joke. Alright Newsjackers and potential Newsjackers, see me back here for our next sermon: Formatting. Ooooh.