TV ambivalence

I want to write for TV, but there is nothing on TV I want to write for.

Except Doctor Who, which is exceedingly unlikely at the moment.

As an aside: There are a few people who contact me and ask me for advice. I have no idea why. One of them asked me: “What’s the best way to go about writing for Doctor Who?” Seriously, who does he think I am? I told him I didn’t know, but to let me know if he finds out.

Every time the BBC runs some kind of competition or scheme I enter it in a really half-arsed manner. A few years back they ran a scheme to find new sitcom writers, someone with fresh ideas and a new approach.

The winner was a guy who’d written a script which was a bit like ‘My Family’. After development, it was exactly the same as ‘My Family’, just with the character’s names changed.

How do you compete in that kind of competition? I mean, it’s great for whoever it was who won – can’t remember who it was, sorry – but why bother? Why not just advertise for spec ‘My Family’ scripts?

The BBC competitions for their various radio sketch shows always spark a particular level of ambivalence in me. I listen to the shows and I don’t find them funny. That’s not to say they’re not funny, just I don’t like them.

How do you write sketches for a show you don’t find funny? I always have a go, because you never know when you might inadvertently hit the right tone; but I never hold out any great hopes.

Similarly, the BBC Writer’s Academy. A chance to be mentored by professionals and be paid to write for some of the BBC’s flagship shows. It’s a fantastic opportunity for anyone who wants to write for Doctors, Holby, Casualty or Eastenders.

And there’s the problem, because I don’t. I can’t stand those programs, they bore the shit out of me. Yet, I always have a vague stab at entering on the grounds I’d rather be paid to write crap than not paid to write stuff I like.

This year, in the section on the application form where it asks: “Why do you want to write for these shows?” I put something along the lines of: “Because I need the money.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get short-listed.

And I’m not sure if I care or not. I don’t want to write for those shows, the training might be interesting; but the actual writing would be soul-destroying.

Again, this is for me, not for someone who loves the shows.

But what else is there? What other avenues are available to writers of my status?

Channel 4 runs their ‘Coming Up’ season every year. I entered this year, with a story I really like … and I’m praying they don’t pick me. I think I would have heard by now if I’d been short listed and I really, really hope I haven’t been.


Because the same story starts shooting in about two and a half hours, directed by Martin Kemp and starring Gary Kemp, Adele Silva and Toby Richards. It’s the first segment of ‘The Summoning’ to be shot and everyone involved loves it. That’s worth more to me than a half-hour slot buried mid-week near midnight on Channel 4.

But still, the question remains: do I bother entering these competitions or not?

I don’t want the prize, but hopefully the prize is a stepping stone to better things. Should I be feigning enthusiasm and entering these comps? Or should I not bother and make room for people who really, really want to win?

Is it better to just stick to writing what I enjoy, or should I grit my teeth and write something I don’t like just for some imagined gain later on?

I don’t even know if it’s realistic for a writer to sustain himself at any reasonable level in this country without writing for the soaps. I’d like to think it is, that I can make money on my own terms for writing things which excite me; but that’s the problem: there isn’t anything on TV which does excite me.

But there might be soon.

A friend is working on a sketch show at the moment. It’s just got commissioned and he put my name forward as a writer. He explained a couple of the sketches from the pilot to me and I think they’re hysterical. The scope of the show is fantastic and it covers areas and themes I really love. The few scripts I’ve seen are hilarious and the way my friend describes it sounds absolutely amazing.

In short: I really, really want to write for it.

I wrote eleven sketches yesterday and sent them in. Now all I have to do is wait and see if the producer likes them. This isn’t a competition but I am actually nervous about it. I think this is the first time I’ve submitted something to anyone at the BBC and actually cared whether or not they like it.

I’ve a feeling I’m setting myself up for a fall.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, Career Path, Industry Musings, My Way | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “TV ambivalence

  1. I didn’t make the shortlist either. I DO actually want to write for those shows you mention and wonder what I can possibly do to improve for next year.

  2. Talk to Piers or Paul Campbell. Find out what they put on their application forms and copy it to the letter.

    Or, find out what I put on mine and do the exact opposite.

  3. steve109

    I’m with you on this one. Hollyoaks wrote to me and offered me the chance to write a trial script. I watched a bunch of episodes and that it was awful, awful, awful. I hated the characters and the lame jokes that never worked. Never. It amazes me that people actually watch that shit. Anyway, I thought it might be cool to be a TV writer and put my heart into it, wrote a script that 3 professional TV writers thoughts was really good. Hey, as far as I was concerned I’d polished a turd. Didn’t hear for months and then was told I didn’t get the characters right. The woman there said I could re-apply but I though to myself, Nah, I would rather put my blood, sweat and tears into passion projects i.e. feature projects and even though they may take years to work out I’ll feel it’s worth the effort. I went to a seminar with the guys who write the James Bond flicks. They said that early in their career they were offered the chance to write for TV but passed and struggled for a long time but then finally hit pay dirt. Good for them I say!

  4. I had the opportunity to write for Footballers Wives Extra Time a while back. They sent me the first series and I watched it all in one day. Jesus! The show got cancelled before I got my shot, which I could never decide if that was a good thing or not. I want to write for TV, I think it’s a great medium. I’m just not sure if I want to wade through the shit to be able to write what I want.

  5. The general consensus seems to be that if you want to write TV drama, you’d better resign yourself to a few years on the soaps. Comedy, on the other hand, is another kettle of fish entirely.

    Personally, I’d be more than happy to suck it up and do the soaps if I had any ambitions in the drama end of things. But I don’t, so instead I’m churning out material for open-submission radio sketch shows. Which is soul-destroying in a different way because it’s like throwing material into a black hole. Did my sketches get cut at the last minute, or go straight into the bin? No idea, and (quite understandably given the volume of submissions) I’m not allowed to ask.

  6. Is this Martin’s first directing project?

    I, for one will take any writing gig that comes my way.

  7. Christine: Do you actually like any of the comedy shows you submit to? Because that’s the part I find difficult. Ah, I’m writing this on my mobile – no enter key. Andy: yes it’s Martin’s directorial debut. I’m a little bit more choosy, but not much. I’ve turned down a couple of movie gigs. I wouldn’t turn down a job writing for any TV show; but I would struggle to be wildly enthusiastic about writing for a soap.

  8. Er, um, well… I like some of them. How’s that for non-commital?

  9. Pingback: Toasties « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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