Image from New Tricks 'Love Means Nothing in Tennis' episode.

I've enough drama in my life, I’m forty-three but feel far older, I have two teenage children, one of each just to ensure all dramatic crisis’ are covered, a long-suffering wife of twenty-three years, an overly needy Jack Russell determined to cost me a fortune in vet's bills, two utterly unreliable cars that need almost as much attention, an overdraft, a mortgage I can’t ever see being able to pay off and everything that comes with it.

So when my Agent suggested I apply for New Tricks again after the long and torturous business of being turned down on my two previous attempts, I seriously wondered if it was a drama I could do without, both literally and figuratively. However, when I learned that new management had taken over the show, I thought I’d give it one more go.

New Tricks, like a lot of detective shows, will usually visit a different ‘world of the week’ every episode. A distinct setting or culture with it’s own rules and quirks, such as a Science Museum or a Cycle Courier Business. In my previous attempts to devise ideas for the show, I came up with the ‘worlds’ first and then invented a story to go in them, a technique that clearly wasn’t working.

Einstein described insanity as…

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…”

With this in mind, I was determined to try a different approach to my next pitch and so decided to find a theme I was interested in exploring first and THEN look for a ‘world of the week’ in which to set it.

For some reason, I have a strange fascination with the growing phenomenon of so called ‘Tiger Mums’ (And Dads); those ultra-focused Pushy Parents who appear to be the driving force behind many a child prodigy’s success. This topic, I thought, could make an interesting theme for my story.

Having settled on the theme, it was time to find the world. As a lot of the most high-profile Pushy Parents can be seen on the sidelines of various sporting arenas up and down the land, sport seemed like the natural choice, and being an avid tennis fan, an awful player but an avid fan, I chose tennis as it’s the sport I played and knew the most about.

With the theme and ‘world of the week’ both chosen, a four-page storyline readily presented itself which I called ‘Love Means Nothing In Tennis’. Problem was, the ending was dark, maybe too dark for a show like New Tricks.

But I needn’t have worried, the new Executive Producer was looking to push the show in new directions, he liked dark, he liked dark a lot in fact and after watching a short film I'd recently made called Love At First Sight, he offered me an episode. A terrific break for me as I’d never landed a nine o’clock show before.

I’m a great fan of short films as an art form in their own right and have given several talks on the subject. Aspiring screenwriters often ask me if there’s any point writing short films and as I hope the above example shows, there is.

Short films are a terrific way of getting something you’ve written actually on screen for a Producer to see. And if you can attract a big name star to your script, (we were lucky enough to have John Hurt and Phyllida Law play our two leads) it’s a tremendous way of adding credibility to your writing.

Love At First Sight has been a wonderful calling card for me as a writer and has really helped raise my profile. The film has won over a dozen major prizes on the International Festival Circuit including: the Raindance and Rushes Soho Film Festivals, a Royal Television Society Award for Best Short Film and, earlier on this year, it made the Oscar short list of ten for the 2011 Best Live Action Short Academy Award.

Alas it didn't make the final nominee list of five, but just to be able to reference the Oscars in association with something I’d written was a huge bonus.

Pullman and Standing speak to the grieving mother of a young tennis star.

As New Tricks is such an established multi-writer show with a very specific style and rhythm, it's hard to write an 'authored' piece as such.

Although the main crime story and theme for the A story had been agreed, I hoped that by developing B and C stories that reflected the Pushy Parents theme and showed counter arguments, I could lend my episode a more personal voice.

Various characters were developed in the A story to explore the theme more fully and, after hours spent pouring through the series bible and watching back episodes, I came up with a couple of ideas for the B and C stories.

One was about Dennis Waterman's character Gerry worrying about not having pushed his daughter Paula enough as a child, despite her obvious talent for football, and the other was about Alun Armstrong's character Brian learning how much trained animals can earn making films and deciding to turn his dog Scampi into a movie star.

Having been an animal trainer for film and television in my twenties, this particular storyline appealed to me greatly. (Wrangling the rat in the air conditioning duct with Tom Cruise and Jean Reno in the first Mission Impossible film being possibly my only claim to fame.)

The point of these two story lines was to show an alternative to Pushy Parenting. Gerry discovering that respecting Paula’s wishes when she wanted to give up football at sixteen and NOT being pushy is exactly what she needed at the time and Brian, who when offered the chance to allow Scampi to do a 'before' shot for a worming treatment advert, deciding that the loss of Scampi's dignity and integrity is too high a price to pay for fame and fortune.

The writing of the script turned out to be a pretty straightforward process and, despite what you might have read in the Radio Times, there was very little, if any, interference with the script.

Of course notes were given and opinions shared, but that's par for the course; screenwriting is an incredibly collaborative process, always will be.

Considering a New Tricks writer can expect to get script notes from the Executive Producer, the Series Producer, the Director, the Series Writer/Creator, the four main Cast Members and from the BBC, all filtered through the hard working Script Editor, who herself will have notes, it's amazing how little interference there was.

And if a Cast Member says…

“My character wouldn't say this, they'd say this…”

Only a fool would ignore them. They're highly skilled actors who have played their characters for almost a decade, who better to make that call.

The great thing was that everyone who contributed notes was as big a fan of the show as me and that enthusiasm, professionalism and desire to make the best possible episode was the common bond.

I wrote the first draft, honed the script to what I thought was within an inch of its life and hand it in thinking…

"That's as good as that script is ever going to get…"

Then I got notes back suggesting changes, and after my initial reaction of wailing and gnashing my teeth, I read the notes again and suddenly thought…

“You know, that could work…” or “That’s a nice idea…”

I slowly started to implement the notes and then low and behold, the script got better. So I went through the process of honing it to what I thought was within an inch of its life again and delivered the second draft while secretly saying to myself…

"This time, that is definitely as good as that script's ever going to get…"

Until of course I got more notes back and started the process all over again, and again, and again; the script getting better each time until the Producers finally put me out of my misery and put it into production.

I agreed with almost all the notes I was given on New Tricks, each one making the script better in its own way. There were a few notes I didn’t agree with, but I'd explain why and the Producers usually saw what I was getting at and allowed me to keep things as they were. It really was surprisingly painless.

On top of this, very little got changed between the final script and the final edit; as you’ll be able to see for yourself if you watch the episode and compare it to the shooting script that’s available to download in the BBC writersroom Script Library.

So that's what happened with ‘Love Means Nothing In Tennis’; I'd love to be able to tell you that I fought tooth and nail with the BBC, the Producers, the Director, the Cast and the Crew to ensure my 'vision' ended up on screen, but it didn't happen that way.

Between us we made drama without there being any behind the scenes drama, just how I like it…

Julian Unthank is the writer for New Tricks - 'Love Means Nothing In Tennis'- Watch the episode back on BBC iPlayer.

Download the script for this episode from the BBC writersroom Script Library.

Comments

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by Bluebirdproject

    on 2 Oct 2013 23:47

    I don't watch TV, at least not much. Casualty, The Apprentice, Strictly and New Tricks and that's about it.
    But then Jack left, that seemed the beginning of the end. Then Brian went and that had to be the end of the end but by then I had noticed the markedly improved sound track and videography and despite the dwindling familiarity with the characters the plots remained strong.
    Then came Rodney and that simply had to be a disaster... but of course he's not Rodney at all, he's a highly skilled and experienced actor so I got my head around that soon enough.
    The final straw was the departure of DCI Sandra Pullman, even if she did meet an exciting frenchman - and goodness knows, it's about time she met someone.
    But that was it for me so far as I was concerned. A good show at the end of its useful life.
    How wrong I was! I have to say that, with retrospect, it has been steadily and brilliantly reinvented and tonight's plot drove that home firmly. Thanks to all involved, my faith is restored.

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Nelly

    on 24 Sept 2013 21:06

    Hi Julian,

    I think the writers have done a great job. I was a bit worried whilst the original line-up started to drop off that the whole series would be axed. I really hope it's going to run for a few more years.

    I'm learning to write. My tutor says I've got a talent for dialogue, especially satire. I do worry that I'm a one trick pony, and can only write mother-in-law conflicts! But, if you ever need anything along those lines, apparently, I'm your woman.

    It must have been difficult flicking a switch to change the style, but you've all done it. Very impressive, especially in a world where nobody seems to be given a chance to bed down, and with the added pressure of New Tricks' former glory.

    All the best
    Nelly

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by angela gold

    on 27 Aug 2013 20:45

    I AM ANGELA GOLD,, I AM A INTERNATIONAL RECORDING ARTISTE SELLING 2.5 MILLION CDS AND ALBUMS WHY DID YOU USE MY IDENTITY AND MY PROFESSION IN TONIGHTS EPISODE 27TH AUGUST 2013 AIRED THIS EVENING OF "NEW TRICKS"? PLEASE EXPLAIN IN MY EMAIL,,,, i await your rapid reply thankyou,, ANGIE GOLD its registered in this site

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by Graeme

    on 1 Aug 2013 13:19

    Was it just me or did any one else see that the Royal Navy Commander had one epaulet upside down? I am sorry but I think the standards are falling and I will be departing with the memories of Jack.

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by Bagsyb37

    on 31 Jul 2013 06:16

    Come on Writers and Continuity - 3 Gold rings is a COMMANDER not a Captain and the left shoulder Epaulette was glaringly upside down

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by tiddle3

    on 18 May 2013 10:30

    Curious to know if there will be a series 11?
    Does anyone know??

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by tiddle3

    on 27 Apr 2013 04:37

    Jullian,
    I'm as many others, a great fan of New Tricks. I stumbled on to it by accident.
    Being in the U.S., I don't get the news of upcoming series.
    I" have been waiting to find out if/when there will be a 10.
    Since the last episode of nine was brilliant, I am hoping you're working to top the last series.
    "I'd love to know if someone would let me know.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by UCOSFAN

    on 18 Nov 2012 22:55

    We enjoyed 'Love means nothing in Tennis ut ask why it was necessary to use background music? this totally destroyed the dialogue and also the serious nature of the moment. It may be too late but please make the person responsible redundant.
    Shame about the reported 'departures from the cast.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by Nick Gill

    on 3 Nov 2012 22:02

    Hi
    Just watched episode 10, New tricks there is a great picture on the wall of the Scottish detectives flat it is a lady with a turban and tattoos, does anyone know the name of this work?

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by mister-writer

    on 26 Oct 2012 11:42

    Hi Chris,

    Sorry, I'm out the loop on that one, we're only told about our own ep.

    best

    Julian

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