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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Episodes – an interview with Jimmy Mulville, Hat Trick Productions

Jimmy explains how Hat Trick got involved with Episodes: "I got a phone call from WME, who have represented Hat Trick in America since we did Whose Line Is It Anyway? Our agent Rick Rosen wanted me to meet David and Jeffrey because they were thinking of doing something that was a break from the conventional American network TV thing.

"I was a huge fan so was very happy to meet up with them. I set up two meetings, one at ITV and one at the BBC and they came and did their pitch."

It was something to remember: "In America you have half an hour to pitch a show. In Britain they're not used to that. I love going to America. They do a nice 'How was your flight?' and then 'Now, what have you got?'

"David and Jeffrey did this fantastic and very funny pitch where they described the world and the main characters, Sean and Beverly, who are based on them. They met Peter Fincham at 9am at ITV. He later said that everything else in his diary that day was dreary by comparison. At the BBC they got a round of applause. In the meeting room afterwards BBC Controller Jay Hunt laughed: 'Please, we can't cope with that too often!'

"As Jeffrey said, it was as if the people they were pitching to had woken up and we were doing a musical in their bedroom."

It certainly seemed to do the trick: "The BBC asked to see a copy of the script and it was a great piece of work. Beautifully structured, funny dialogue, a real page turner, and the characters are emotionally driven so that it's not just a series of jokes. They were quickly on board."

Jimmy laughs: "I can relate to David and Jeffrey's experiences of American networks."

He admits to having once suffered through the doomed Americanisation of Game On, the 1990s BBC comedy starring Ben Chaplin as an agoraphobic. After showering the show with praise, Jimmy explains that the Fox network executives who bought it ('Love it, it's so sophisticated!') then questioned its very premise: "'Can't he leave the house once, to go down to Foot Locker?' they said. Bit by bit it got eroded from being a distinctive, quirky, black comedy into being about three jolly people sharing an apartment and it never got made."

It turns out that this is quite a common experience. "American network television is driven by numbers and by panic really. I've learned that 90% of producing is protecting your original idea, playing defence, absorbing the worst notes and trying to ensure they don't damage the show.

"It's a difficult transition from here to the States, and The Office, of course, is one glorious exception. We did Worst Week Of My Life, which lasted for 16 episodes in 2009 and we're also developing Outnumbered with Fox – our original pilot didn't work as it was too cheery and whacky. Outnumbered is painful sometimes and real and gritty, and they don't like that much in America."

No such problems with Episodes, which remained ambitious in scope: "It's very intensive in terms of resources and cast, with lots of locations, like shooting a little movie really. The script remained intact and the cast are to die for.

"Tamsin and Stephen are so believable as the fish out of water couple. And Matt is just a great Hollywood TV star – he has such presence as soon as he comes on screen. But what he's willing to do is to play the dark side of that as well, which will be very interesting for Matt LeBlanc fans!"

He admits that there was some nervousness about making a 'TV story' about a couple and the wedge that comes between them.

"But it's all down to the writing. What's great about this show is we have been able to attract the best cast and the best crew with David and Jeffrey's superlative scripts.

"I'm old fashioned. I believe that comedy should make you laugh involuntarily. This is laugh-out-loud comedy. It's a classic BBC Two show. Who knows, but if you like shows like Extras, 30 Rock, The Office and Outnumbered, you'll probably like this."

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