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Last August Danny Cohen used his ‘Meet-the-Controller’ session at The Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival to announce an ambitious new BBC One initiative; an open call for creatives to submit comedy scripts to the channel within twelve weeks, with a firm commitment to producing a run of transmittable pilots to be screened in Summer 2012. BBC1 and Channel 4 are once again battling it out for the Friday night comedy honours, and the two channels' outputs demonstrate the range of programming that represents contemporary entertainment. For some time now ITV has been viewed as neglectful in regard of its scripted comedy production.
It’s great to hear that the broadcaster is making a significant investment in scripted comedy again.
The BBC Comedy Blog on occasion has guest blogs from scriptwriters plugging talking about their latest show. Beth Kilcoyne is a clever writer, evidenced by two excellent series of Roger & Val, and maybe her story about the mice is a tall tale to illustrate a point about the complexities of the scriptwriting process. Brett’s palpable jealousy in the previous blog because I was at the Bafta TV Awards at the South Bank Centre on Sunday night is entirely warranted; it was glamorous and glittering (not to mention sweltering!).
While I may not have made it to the Baftas, Sarah was kind enough to bring me a gift from the ceremony; little chocolates in the shapes of the award, known as 'Tiddly Baftas'. But have a look at that box; it announces this confectionary is 'celebrating creativity in film and chocolate'.
It's easy to get too sensitive about this, but I do worry about the kudos given to TV in comparison to cinema.
Last week I headed to London for two television industry talks which were interesting and relevant to this project. It was interesting to hear Lumsden - comparing her current role at Sky with her time as BBC controller of comedy commissioning - claim that she is now able to enjoy ‘a bit more of a personal relationship with each of the shows’, adding that ‘it’s really creatively rewarding to feel you’re at the beginning of each journey’.
The final episode of Twenty Twelve was broadcast last night, and ended on a suitably apt yet heart-rending cliffhanger. Reviews of Twenty Twelve have always been good but, as the Olympics have neared, its ability to almost predict real-life events has been repeatedly noted.
My favourite comedy programme of the last couple of weeks - and perhaps my favourite programme of the year - has been The Last Leg. An estimated UK audience of 27 million tuned in to watch the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics on Friday, and while the appearances of Kenneth Branagh, J K Rowling, Dizzee Rascal, Tim Berners-Lee and Paul McCartney showcased great British talent and creativity, the undoubted star of the show was the British sense of humour. From the much-talked-about James Bond spoof sketch featuring Daniel Craig and the Queen - as herself!
Follow Sarah's blog below, one question: exactly how British was the ceremony in its depiction of humour?
I saw the Opening Ceremony with friends in Germany, and spent quite a bit of time having to explain references to things such as EastEnders and Desmond's. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced this week that they were opening a consultation on the introduction of tax reliefs for the creative sector; specifically animation, video games and ‘high-end’ television. So I was pleased, and to a degree relieved, when I visited the DCMS website to read the official 1st October announcement and found that while the term ‘high-end’ was put to use more than a dozen times, there was no sign at all of the word ‘drama’. The more I read about creative management and environments said to be conducive to creative activity, the more I am reminded of the ridicule with which creativity is treated by British television comedy. Even the most uninspiring working environment is unsafe from the grasp of creative management tropes as team building exercises and creative jargon cause a considerable amount of eye rolling in both The Office and in Mark’s workplace in Peep Show. So if there is evidence that those writing and producing television comedy find the idea of creative management so laughable, might this suggest why acknowledging and applying theories around creativity to the industry itself has yet to be fully explored?
Having really enjoyed the BAFTA TV Debate that I attended in July, I was disappointed not to be able to make it to Armando Iannucci’s Annual Television Lecture at BAFTA last Monday. Iannucci’s lecture – entitled Fight Fight Fight – was, if not exactly a rallying cry, then an entreaty for British television’s creatives to be more assertive in battling ‘whatever attacks or restricts our creative ambition’; be that from politicians, press barons, commissioning executives or broadcaster caution. What interests me, however, is the ‘fight’ that Iannucci’s lecture less explicitly suggested; the likely battle for survival that the current roles of programme commissioner, scheduler and channel controller will have as contemporary audiences increasingly seek to access content from anywhere in the world, on all manner of devices, at a time that suits them. We've produced the first output from this research; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched an inquiry into support for the creative economy, and invited interested parties to submit evidence. That the DCMS is carying out such an inquiry is interesting in itself; the call foregrounds developing a legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games as a spur, where the excellence of the UK creative industries was repeatedly on display. Of course, the value of the creative industries is not purely economic; but it's telling that you still have to make the case for the value of supporting creativity, as opposed to other sectors.
Nick Emmerson (pictured) and Claire Hungate have been promoted to lead the new group as managing director and co-managing director, respectively. The bosses of its prodcos will now report into the exec, who will also seek to build even closer ties to Warner Bros. Emmerson will report into WBTVG president and chief content officer Peter Roth on all creative matters, and will work closely with Warner Bros. She was formerly with Shed’s Wall to Wall, where she had been MD, until being promoted to COO of Shed in 2010 when Warner Bros. If he hasn’t had any success unearthing fresh comedy writing talent from within existing industry pools, then he needs to voice his appeal to a different pond entirely, maybe even brave the open water. I like that Channel 4 is making this kind of stuff and the two performers are astonishing, but many of the reviews were (unfairly and prematurely?) negative.
In fact, the broadcaster has been without a dedicated comedy commissioner for more than 18 months.
I was always so disappointed that it seemed to have effectively abandoned the genre in recent years.
They can make really interesting reading for a committed viewer of a series, but are not usually very revealing about the minutiae of the writer’s creative processes.


In some ways, in the context of a comedy blog, it’s immaterial whether the details of her story are true.
And the winners in the comedy categories might suggest something about the future of entertainment television. It’s worth noting though that my attendance wasn’t due to an influential industry contact or high-profile networking, but because for the first time in the Award’s history tickets for the event were put on sale to the public. The first was at the BFI Southbank, ‘TV’s Comedy Renaissance: Lucy Lumsden in Conversation’, where Sky’s Head of Comedy talked about taking up her role at the broadcaster, the development of its comedy output to date, and gave a few hints about Sky’s future programming plans. She also spoke of the importance of offering creative freedom to Britain’s best comic talent, a place for them ‘to come and play’. And while I've always thought she was good, Olivia Colman really shone, a performance of astonishing restraint and heartbreak.
The programme is consistently referred to as a 'mockumentary', and I explored this form of the sitcom genre in an article I wrote in 2004 called 'Comedy Verite'. International press reports certainly referred to it as such, but might this just be what journalists say when they can't make sense of something? On glancing at the headlines I felt this was at least a step in the right direction in supporting the creative industries – particularly British television comedy - at a time of acute economic uncertainty. It appeared that the assumption that ‘high-end’ (which in many ways felt like a simple substitution for that other heavily loaded term brought to bear on television: ‘quality’) equated to television drama had been made by the journalists reporting the announcement, and was not a core supposition of the DCMS consultation from the outset.
Wanting a broader sense of the development of the DCMS consultation process on the matter, I accessed the earlier working group and consultation PDF documents, and there it repeatedly was: ‘drama’.
His criticism of the operations and influence of politicians and the press – with the Leveson inquiry still fresh in people’s minds – could perhaps be anticipated, and his call for commissioning executives to offer programme-makers greater creative freedom is a familiar sentiment which echoes the remarks of Jimmy Mulville and others at the earlier TV Debate. This, Iannucci asserts, puts the ‘makers of good stuff… in the driving seat’; as content is now supreme.
So, we chatted to our project participants and produced a submission that, hopefully, represents their responses well (we'll get it posted here soon). This coincides with a recent report by the Centre for Business and Economics Research that argues that, in London, the creative industries will be the key driver of economic growth, crowding out business services and finance within five years. Our submission to the DCMS inquiry argues that one of the key problems is the lack of job stability in the television comedy industry, with the majority of workers on temporary contracts and therefore unable to plan long-term careers.
As a result, Shed CEO Nick Southgate will exit the company on completion of the transaction. He had been CEO of Shed’s Richochet Television since January 2013, and with the company for 15 years. And Would I Lie To You? is great bit of telly, with fascinating chemistry between the regulars. But it looks as though this is set to change after the announcement today that Myfanwy Moore – former producer of Little Britain – is to join ITV as a commissioning editor for the genre. The popular and critical success of Benidorm demonstrates that a well-written narrative comedy can achieve peak-time audiences of 7 or 8 million. The latest blog update however, ‘Episode Zero & The Mice’, is an intriguing exception (and a great read for a researcher keen to capture and explore the nature of creativity in TV comedy!). More interesting is the fact that a rare space was provided for her to account for the creative practices of writing comedy. It’s also the name of a new comedy and entertainment company which has been launched by the Shed Media Group.
A night where a Sky programme contains the best male comedy performance (Darren Boyd in Spy) while Jennifer Saunders (for Absolutely Fabulous) wins for the best female comedy performance is one that brings together the new and the old. The entire upper balcony of the Royal Festival Hall was given over to a ‘general audience’. At a TV awards ceremony it's seen as no problem to refer to cinema and not the medium being celebrated at the event; would the same happen in reverse? This can't be helped when an awards ceremony intended to celebrate achievement in television blithely prefers to refer to an altogether different medium. The following evening I attended the BAFTA TV Debate: ‘Who needs a commissioning editor anyway?’, a much broader discussion of whether the existing commissioning system is the most creative and efficient way of getting shows to air.
In that article I argued the mock-doc can be a powerful place for the examination of the social role of 'proper' documentary, and Twenty Twelve's John Morton and Paul Schlesinger plays with this marvellously in their earlier People Like Us. Similarly, mock-doc has often explored the differences between how people present themselves on- and off-camera, yet there seems no such tension in Twenty Twelve and we're shown events I would expect other mock-docs to present as ones the 'participants' would not want recorded. This no doubt resulted from the largely positive response they received from the Paralympians themselves, who tweeted the programme to congratulate it on allowing disabled people to talk about their lives in public in a manner similar to how they had done so in private. The montage of film and TV clips projected onto an inflatable house included some of the classic British TV comedy moments from the last four decades: Fawlty Towers, Harry Enfield, Blackadder, and Channel 4’s barbershop sitcom Desmond’s. Perhaps the bigger question is how we would define a national sense of humour in the first place? I'm not sure people in the UK quite realise how much Atkinson, as Mr Bean, is understood around the world as exemplifying British humour (I used to work in a school teaching English as a foreign language, and the first thing many Japanese students would do when arriving in the country would be to run to the shops to buy Mr Bean videos). But on examining the news coverage of the announcement I felt a growing sense of frustration, followed by a predictable resignation. Twenty Twelve’s PR firm Perfect Curve is a great (and hilarious) example of how the intangible aspects of creative management (brainstorming, bluesky thinking, freedom to make mistakes) can be taken to the point of absurdity. So I relished sitting down this weekend to watch footage of the lecture and subsequent Q&A, and reading the full transcript of both.


While I’d query his prediction that the revolution in viewing habits is going to come ‘in the next three, four years’, I certainly agree that it is inevitable, and wonder whether executives and commissioning producers in British television are as prepared for it as they should be.
We've been discussing with our participants possible schemes or recommendations to rectify this, and it's a key question we're exploring as part of this research project.
She will report into Emmerson, and will work closely with Warner Bros International Television Productions’ executive VP and head Ronald Goes in managing the company. TBI is published by Informa Telecoms & Media which is a trading name of Informa UK Limited. I also like what is says about celebrity, as the players try to work out whether statements are true or not based on their assumptions about peoples' private lives from knowledge of their public personas.
Broadcast reports that Moore has been brought in to help watch over ITV’s renewed commitment to narrative-driven shows and sitcoms, while commissioning editor of entertainment and comedy Claire Zolker will focus on existing comedy entertainment shows like Celebrity Juice, and some similar new commissions.
Written by Beth Kilcoyne, who co-writes the BBC2 sitcom Roger & Val Have Just Got In with her twin Emma, the blog charts the sisters’ struggles in getting back into writing for the show’s second series. Yalli will produce “quirky” entertainment, factual entertainment and comedy shows, and it has already been commissioned to produce two new comedy pilots for the BBC. And during the course of the evening this physical separation between the ‘us’ of the audience and the ‘them’ of the industry professionals beneath us in the stalls, highlighted some really interesting distinctions in terms of industry versus popular taste. And common to both events was the idea that a close working relationship between commissioners and production professionals is vital to both fostering creativity and successful programme-making.
As part of the BAFTA panel, Mark Raphael (Commissioning Editor for Channel 4 Factual) similarly pronounced that ‘the best relationships are when there’s trust’, and problems only tend to arise ‘when people don’t want to let you in’.
This is not to say this is a problem - but I do wonder if Twenty Twelve represents the next stage in comedy's critique of documentary conventions. Later in the ceremony came a nod to Absolutely Fabulous when Eddie and Patsy’s leg of the Olympic torch relay briefly appeared on screen.
This is difficult in all nations, but a country such as the UK, made up of multiple nations, offers exta complications. When I ask foreign students what they know of British comedy they consistently refer to Benny Hill.
Nathan Barley shows a whole host of new media types, none of whom are admirable for their innovative approach to work and instead are so caught up in being different and progressive (two essential qualities in creative industry), they frequently forget to check whether their output is ever of any merit to anyone outside of their self congratulatory inner circle. Because television creatives like Iannucci are certainly ready to reclaim some of the creative control they sense they have lost. It was, Beth admits, akin to "trying to get a swing-boat started" without having someone to give you an initial push. Since the success of Miranda we've been repeatedly assured that the traditional, audience sitcom is on its way back; might this be evidence of that prediction coming true? Many of the programmes and performers cheered, clapped and wolf-whistled by those on the balcony, were not those that were appreciated by those below. From the other side of the commissioning process, Hat Trick Productions’ founder Jimmy Mulville stressed the importance of a commissioner championing producers in the face of media controversy and denunciation; ‘You want an arm put round you when you feel the cold wind of disapproval’.
The fact that it seems audiences haven't been confused by it breaking the 'rules' of documentary shows how that genre's norms might have fallen apart. Disability and comedy remains a problematic area, not least because humour is often used in society to denigrate and disempower disabled people. Do the Welsh feel represented in this British idea of comedy, for example, and how do people in Northern Ireland repsond to the UK Olympic and Paralympic athletes being referred to as 'Team GB'? There might be an interesting mismatch between what we think British humour is and how it's thought of around the world; the Opening Ceremony, I think, did quite a clever job of negotiating that contradiction. She describes their long and laboured efforts penning the first episode - which they felt was awful – being disrupted by an infestation of mice in her home; an interjection which eventually provided a springboard to their writing of the second episode.
The second is a sketch show, The Ginge, the Geordie and the Geek, which will build upon a sell-out Edinburgh Fringe show of the same name.
The cutaway to Jack Whitehall's none-too-chuffed face when Mrs Brown's Boys won was priceless - and perhaps emblematic of the perceived distinctions within the industry between different types of comedy. For example, during the nominations VT for Male Performance in a Comedy Programme the largest cheer by far from the balcony was for Brendan O’Carroll, yet when Darren Boyd was announced as winner this turned to polite applause, whilst approval of this choice from the stalls below could plainly be heard.
Can Channel 4 find a way to build on this progressive and perhaps unexpected programming success? This ‘Episode Two’, which by contrast to the first "wrote like a dream", ended up being Episode One of the series. I’d say the latter of these was more up my street personally, but there’s always a risk in adapting a critically acclaimed stage show for the small screen. Beth refers to their first attempt as ‘Episode Zero’: the equivalent of a first push of the swing-boat to get her and Emma back into the rhythm of writing. There are no guarantees that the format, however skilfully amended for television, will create the same atmosphere and ‘buzz’ that it generates with a live audience.
I always watch shows of that kind willing them to succeed, to be hilarious, to live up to the hype.




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