Line of Duty - Series 2

Wednesday 12 February 2014, 13:54

Jed Mercurio Jed Mercurio Writer

No one was more surprised than me by the success of the first series of Line of Duty. After a writing career of what might be called cult hits – and one or two misses – it was extraordinary to be part of a programme that was BBC Two’s highest performing drama series in a decade. I was reminded of the final scene of the early 70s political satire “The Candidate”. Robert Redford plays the outsider in a Senate election. He conducts an eccentric campaign on the assumption he’s doomed to lose, but his candour wins over voters and he triumphs. As his team celebrate, he pulls his campaign manager aside and asks, in bemusement, “What do we do now?”

Vicky MacLure Detective Constable Kate Fleming played by Vicky McClure

The development process on the second series of Line of Duty began as soon as the recommission was confirmed in August 2012. Shooting of six new episodes was scheduled to begin in April 2013. Storylining meetings involved my pitching ideas at World Productions to Simon Heath, Executive Producer, and Priscilla Parish, Script Editor, after which we conferred with Stephen Wright, Head of Drama at BBC Northern Ireland, and Ben Stephenson, Controller of Drama at the BBC.

Keeley Hawes Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton played by Keeley Hawes

Line of Duty had originally been conceived as a returnable drama, with the premise being that the fictional anticorruption unit AC-12 would move on to a new case in each series, centred on a high-profile antagonist accused of corruption. The character of Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton would be a contrast to DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James) from Series 1, and we would also depart from the open mystery whereby the audience witnessed Gates’ secrets and dilemma while AC-12 played catch-up. Denton hides her secrets from both the audience and AC-12, making Series 2 more of a whodunit (and whydunit). It was also very important for the long-term development of the returning characters that we portrayed more of their personal lives.

Martin Compston Detective Sgt Steve Arnott played by Martin Compston

I was grateful that the BBC and World Productions agreed that I could write the whole series, which meant it was possible to employ the same process as before. I would write episode by episode and would try to avoid revealing too much about how the later story develops. This approach allows the series to be constructed along the model of how the audience will watch it. I was concerned that too rigid an adherence to defined plot points in later episodes would restrict the dramatic potential of the preceding ones.

Adrian Dunbar Supt Ted Hastings played by Adrian Dunbar

In general, I delivered a two-page outline of the episode, Simon, Priscilla and I would discuss improvements, and then I’d write the episode. Sometimes I found it necessary to depart from the outline, if things didn’t work, or they seemed too dull on the page. Once an episode was in good shape, usually after a couple of drafts, I’d move on to the next. As we neared production, the drafting process got more intense, with input from all departments, the cast and the directors. Episode 6 went through about 10 drafts!

Line of Duty returns to BBC Two on Wednesday 12 February 2014 - find out more about the series including character profiles, clips and photos

Catch up with episodes after broadcast on BBC iPlayer

Read the script for Episode 1 of Series 2 in our Script Library

Read a blog by Jed Mercurio about Series 1 of Line of Duty

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