She Who Laughs Last Laughs …

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This is the first post on my involvement with a bizarre televised sitcom-writing competition show. A niche genre, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Generally speaking, writers of sitcoms don’t make for good television. Sure, they may make great television, but put them in front of the camera and a producer has got himself a bumper bag of ratings kryptonite. It’s amazing that someone at the Beeb actually came up with the idea at all.

“Hey, guys. Totally awesome idea, yeah? Let’s televise a sitcom-writing competition. Viewers love watching socially inept people dressed in M&S Blue Harbour mumbling to camera being unfunny in a completely unintentional way.”

“Whoa, yeah. It’ll really bring alive the magic and mystique of comedy. Get O’Briain on the phone.”

Yet in 2005 that’s exactly what happened. Some person at the Beeb had unprotected thinking, leading to a fertilised pitch-egg dividing enough times to produce  BBC Three’s The Last Laugh. The premise of this programme was that Paul Mayhew-Archer, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, Carla Lane, Ian Brown and James Hendrie, Jonathan Harvey, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, Ian Pattison, and Trix Worrell, these comedy writing giants would each contribute the first twenty minutes of a pilot sitcom; it would then be thrown open to members of the public to choose the pilot they like best and write the last ten minutes of it.

The prize? Even now I’m not entirely sure. I think there was some vague mention of mentoring, a few loose, strictly non-binding hints that the winning pilot may eventually get made. Everything seemed formless, waiting to evolve if the conditions (ie, ratings) were right. To be honest, I don’t believe even the Beeb knew what the endpoint of this programme was, but a box had been ticked somewhere along the line and so the only way to go was forward.

But anyway, why not give it a go? I hadn’t written scripts before, it’d be fun to try something new. Fun. My notion that it’d be a bit of a laugh teamed with my complete lack of expectation enabled me to weather the following storm of … very little happening. Sadly several of the other competitors weren’t quite so cheerfully phlegmatic. I’ll cover the brittle fragility of a writer’s ego in a later instalment of this hilarious series.

I duly sent off my ten-minute ending to Paul Mayhew-Archer’s Good Morning Miss Milton — imagine Geraldine Granger quitting the clergy and having a second career in teaching — and forgot all about it.

[Next time:  trying to get a writer to come alive in front of a camera]

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