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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Episodes – an interview with director James Griffiths

Director James Griffiths is best known for Free Agents and Royal Wedding.

"When I was working on the former I was really encouraged to look across the waters at Entourage and other HBO shows," says James. "I also watched Manhattan and other early Woody Allen films, determined that despite the limited budget I would make the series look dramatic and ambitious. It set me up very well to direct Episodes."

He continues: "Although the behind-the-scenes concept has been done before, this is very much about the relationship between Sean, Beverly and Matt.

"Apart from the fact that Matt is playing himself, it reminds me of the central triangle in Truffaut's Jules Et Jim. Three people in a very tight working relationship, that spills over into friendship and much more. It's about how the three of them deal with each other, how someone coming into a relationship or a marriage can change the dynamic.

"Episodes also looks at the nuts and bolts of what it's like to be under pressure at work and how that filters through to your home life."

He was fascinated by the central idea that the network want to cast Matt LeBlanc in the lead role at all costs: "Sean and Beverly go for a polite courtesy meeting with Matt and you suddenly see how the network, his agent, everyone conspires to get Matt the part, which is very truthful and really happens.

"Casting agents push people through because they are friends. But it's given a very funny twist in Episodes in that Matt isn't particularly keen on playing the part at first apart from the money, so they all get something out of it apart from the English couple who are just getting screwed."

He continues: "There were moments during the show where you felt as if the show within the show mirrors real life completely. We've had similar conversations in wardrobe and in casting sessions. You feel as if you are living the story and watching it has been quite surreal.

"The American network boss hasn't even seen the show when he signs it up – he just knows that it has won BAFTAs, and that is a comment on the industry really: 'If you're successful then we will buy a bit of that success'.

"But success comes from the talent involved. If you start changing that talent, you change all the little elements, it becomes a very different show and loses that unique quality. That's what film-making is, a combination of cast, crew, writing – it's very difficult to manufacture that."

He continues: "David and Jeffrey have been very clever with the writing of Pucks! – the show within the show. It has a very different, heightened style, and feels like a very American sitcom. It was definitely seen as its own little show, with a Pucks! crew, who spent two weeks with us at Pinewood Studios working alongside us."

He laughs: "Unbeknownst to me, wardrobe studied what I wore, so the Pucks! director turned up on set in very similar clothes to me!"

Wardrobe in Pucks! becomes a particular issue for Beverly: "Nicola the librarian is a lesbian in a boys' school who Lyman could never have a relationship with. But Matt wants a new love angle, and before they know it wardrobe have put her in plunging necklines and the shortest of skirts.

"Their reasoning is simple: How many seasons do they normally have in the UK? Four seasons and 24 episodes. That's fine, but it's very different sustaining the long runs of American shows such as Friends which ran to 240 episodes.

"Matt's character makes a really good argument for making the librarian straight and a 'hottie' and so the show just gets chipped away…"

He continues: "The lines that are written for Matt LeBlanc's coach Lyman character in Pucks! are very much 'Joey' jokes, kind of dumb, average Joe kind of guy. We get a sense of how annoying that must be for Matt in real life. Mind you, when someone comments that they think catch phrases are rather cheesy, he says 'Tell that to my house in Malibu!'"

"Matt's a really good sport. I think it's a good part for him, because he's a very good comic actor and this brings together all his strengths.

"The writing is fantastic, it's underplayed, and there are some great situation jokes and some lovely character moments. You get a real sense of a bit of sadness as well. It's a real insight into what it might be like to be someone who is really successful in a sitcom and hasn't yet had the next big thing."

Filming took place in and around London and in LA: "A lot of the action takes place in interiors – the mansion, the network offices and studios. There's not a huge amount set outside.

"Some exteriors were shot in LA but the big houses were just outside London. It's important though that the setting look effortless – we don't want the audience to think about where it's being filmed but just to enjoy the story."

James concludes: "We're really lucky that the three principal actors have a great relationship; there's a huge amount of banter between them. I think it must have been very hard for Matt to come off a show that is such an ensemble, which Friends was. But it's been a good fit, and a delight to work with them all. You forget that they come from such different disciplines in the UK and America. There's no shift in the comic tone."

Showtime's President of Entertainment Robert Greenblatt concludes: "What a thrill to have two giants of the comedy world like Klarik and Crane satirise what they know best: the making (or un-making) of art. We jumped at the chance to get involved with this cock-eyed look at network television told through the eyes of unsuspecting British writers who don't know what hits them when they enter the lions' den of Hollywood. And Matt LeBlanc – wryly sending up his own image – is the icing on the cake. This show complements our eclectic and critically acclaimed line-up of half-hour comedies beautifully."

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