BBC Writersroom interviews ... Cheryl Taylor

BBC Writersroom talks to the Controller of CBBC, Cheryl Taylor about commissioning priorities, tips and advice on writing for Children’s drama & comedy. 

Despite a fairly sobre Quaker upbringing, Cheryl has always loved Drama and Entertainment and embarked on a media career in 1987 as a VT Editor at McCann Erickson in London. She worked her way up to a commissioning role at Channel Four via stints in Comic Relief and BBC Entertainment. At Channel Four, Cheryl commissioned Spaced and Black Books, as well as the first Derren Brown extravaganza in 2000.

After a spell as Head of Comedy at Hat Trick Productions Cheryl returned to the BBC comedy department and became Controller in 2009 and commissioned Mrs Brown’s Boys, The Wrong Mans, Citizen Khan, Bluestone Four Two, Twenty Twelve and Bad Education - amongst others. Cheryl was appointed Controller of CBBC in September 2012 and continues the grand tradition of commissioning inspiring content for children aged 6-12 across the UK. CBBC shows aim to reflect and reveal life experiences and viewer participation plays a key part in its public service offering. Recent commissions include Hetty Feather, Our School, Hank Zipzer, All at Sea, Ludus (CBBC's first playalong series), Eve, So Awkward and The Dog Ate My Homework. 

Cheryl Taylor: Interview

What do you look for in a script?

I look first for a well imagined and well constructed world and second for characters that are accessible, engaging and exciting to spend time with. I'm particularly impressed when characters stay with me long after I've finished the script because of a good joke they've spun or a quirky thought they've opined. It's also really important to get a sense that the writer knows the Channel output (i.e. - hasn't sent in an idea that we already have as a series) and appreciates the age and appetites of our viewers - children 6-12.

What are your key priorities for CBBC?

In the fiction arena we look for high quality returning drama series and laugh out loud sitcoms and comedy drama.  We've done well recently with sitcoms Hank Zipzer and All at Sea both of which have family appeal and in time we'll find replacements for these.  

A strong sense of the supernatural coupled with accessible everyday scenarios works well in dramas like Wolfblood and Wizards v Aliens and narratives that offer similarly imaginative adventures are popular with our audience.

We commissioned  a number of interactive dramas and webisodes this year which went down well and we're now looking for more of these but with genuinely resourceful ideas for lo-cost production techniques. Our audience really enjoyed Dixi and Liam's story and we want to be in a position to afford more engaging and short form narratives that can play out on mobile and tablets.

Is there anything writers should consider when writing for a Children’s audience?

Children have well rounded tastes and as such should not be patronised with content that is any less sophisticated than drama and comedy on adult airtime. They love adventure and have a sense of wonder and curiosity about situations they're not familiar with -  as well as finding comfort from scenarios and people they recognise from their own lives  (as in a young boy coping with Dyslexia in Hank Zipzer).

Children really love to laugh and physical humour and socially awkward characters go down well. "Miranda"  for example is a big hit with our audience as are our home-grown comedy shows like Dog Ate My HomeworkDNN and of course Horrible Histories.

We want our audience to love our shows and share then with their friends so it's important to find that elusive factor that is going to promote a buzz in the playground.

What are the key ingredients to a great CBBC show?

Confident premise, strong, imaginative colourful characters with warmth and wit and high production values. We have a wide demographic to consider so although there are titles that appeal specifically to the higher or lower age range it's always fabulous when we get a breakout broad appeal hit (like Dumping GroundRoyDeadly Sixty and Horrible Histories) which resonates across the age ranges.

What are your favourite CBBC shows and why?

I'm a huge Blue Peter fan and like many of the Nation's children am wondering what I should do to win a coveted badge.

Participation plays a big part in our non-fiction genres and I love shows like "Show Me What You're Made Of" and newcomer "Ultimate Brain"  where children get involved and are posited at the heart of the action.

I'm in awe of the consistently strong Newsround team and extremely proud of our award-winning documentary series My Life and our famously entertaining factual output including Operation Ouch and Dick and Dom Absolute Genius.

It's hard to choose from the impressive  range of Comedy and Drama - I think it's all wonderful and I'm a proper fan. I particularly love Hacker Time because the humour is so off the wall and Hacker himself is so consistently funny and outrageous! The production team go flat out to give each show a wealth of brilliant visual gags and devise shockingly embarrassing situations for Hacker's high profile guests.  And yet - they manage to bring it all in on a shoestring - well - maybe 2 shoestrings.... Genius.

Are there any ideas / scripts you get a lot of? And is there anything writers should avoid?

We've had a wealth of vets and pets to look at along in the last few months with many school based narratives too. The Dumping Ground will be enormously popular for years to come so probably best to avoid children in care scenarios.  We have taken the plunge with a fragmented family sitcom this year - "The Millie Show" - and so scripts about children with warring parents won't be needed for a while.

We've had a real push to establish female protagonists so look out for "Eve", "So Awkward", "Millie" (as mentioned earlier) and the much anticipated "Hetty Feather".  Boisterous boys with annoying habits are in with a chance although I must be honest and say that the wealth of strong Comedy and Drama currently on the Channel means slots and funding are currently under pressure.

What advice would you offer writers submitting to BBC Writersroom's Script Room?

Please do watch CBBC. The more you view across all genres - not just fiction - the more you'll get a sense of what works and what makes a CBBC show special.  I hope we encourage and celebrate a sense of wonder and adventure - mischief and friendly irreverence too.  We are always on the look-out for fun and fabulous and run a mile from earnest and tweedy!

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