Producing Radio 4 Extra's Newsjack - From the Writers Room to the Edit Suite
Radio 4 Extra
Charlie Perkins and Arnab Chanda
Hello. We are Charlie Perkins and Arnab Chanda. Charlie is a girl. Arnab is a boy. We are the Producers of the 10th and 11th series of Radio 4 Extra’s topical sketch show Newsjack. It’s quite an unorthodox show, in that it’s written almost entirely by the public, and put together in just two days. It’s an insanely quick turnaround, and can lead to panic attacks.
The work begins for us on Monday, when we read all the sketch submissions from the public and also run the Writers Room, which usually consists of 6 writers- young standups, sketch comedians, or writers who have consistently sent great sketches into the show. In it, each writer presents three sketch ideas they have, and the whole room tries to help them shape it. It’s a very friendly and collaborative room. We hope.
Newsjack writers meeting
So, what makes a good topical sketch? Well, maybe the most important thing is having a target. Comedians such as Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and Charlie Brooker all have fantastic satirical shows because they know their point of view and what they want to attack. A great topical sketch similarly needs to do the same. Otherwise it can be funny, but utterly pointless. Sounds obvious, but there also needs to be a good beginning, middle, and end to the sketch. In the Writers Room, we ask everyone just to outline the sketch during the morning, and then actually write the dialogue in the afternoon once they’ve figured out the structure of it. It’s often the same in sitcom writing- you don’t actually start writing the dialogue until you’ve outlined the plot. It’s often laborious and boring, but incredibly important.
Arnab noting news stories
On Tuesday we work with the Script Editors in shaping the top 25 sketches from the Monday. Romesh also comes in to the office to write his monologue based on the biggest news story that week. We also read ALL the one-liner submissions. This series we had a week where we received over 2,500. That was crazy. By the time the show airs, only about 30-40 will survive....
On Wednesday, we make final changes to the sketches and one-liners, and have two read-throughs with the entire cast in the BBC Radio Theatre, after which we make even more tweaks, and then record the final show at 7:30pm. Hopefully people laugh. If they don’t, everyone stares at each other in horror.
On Thursday, we spend the day in the edit suite with our edit maestro Chris Morris, and add all sorts of stings and music to help the sketches come alive. And then the show goes out that very evening at 10:30pm on Radio 4 Extra! Then Charlie and Arnab go to bed.
Newsjack Edit room
It’s been an incredible experience producing the past two series of NewsJack. In the 11th series, we incredibly had 131 individual contributors, which is so exciting to have found that many promising writers. Our main goal when producing this show was not only to have this show be a platform for new writers, but also for new performers, and script editors, and we hope this tradition continues for years to come.
So thanks for writing and keep submitting to the show!
Previously on the Writersroom blog: