Monday, June 15, 2009

Also something about killer puppets, but that was going too far.

I've just completed a treatment for an episode in the prospective Series 5 of HOTEL BABYLON. Series 4 goes out on BBC1 this Friday, 9pm, but S5 hasn't actually been commissioned yet - the BBC wanted the treatments for the first few episodes in before they make their decisions, so if HB5 doesn't get commissioned, it will be MY FAULT.

In other news, PRIMEVAL has been cancelled by ITV, for being just too expensive to run, despite perfectly good viewing figures - more details on

Anyway, it's been interesting writing for an already-existing show rather than coming up with something of my own. Easier in some ways, more difficult in others.


The producers should know what works with the show, which really means which characters work best with which kind of story (and crucially, which actors work best with which kind of story).

The structure of the show should be fairly well-defined by now: HB has A, B, C and D stories all running at pretty much the same time, so the treatment contains four separate storylines, with details of which characters are involved in each storyline, and their 'emotional throughlines' (not a phrase I'm that fond of, but no-one's ever come up with anything better). The stories do go in and out of each other, but trying to dovetail them too closely is a mug's game, and a lot of stuff gets chopped around in the edit, so to an extent you just have to make sure the stories have room to weave around each other, but leave the actual cutting in and out to the editor.

If talk of 'A' and 'B' storylines is confusing you, think of the average Star Trek: Next Generation story: the 'A' story is Picard dealing with the enormous thing in space threatening to blow the Enterprise into bits (it could be another spaceship, but is just as likely to be an enormous cloud thing, or an enormous christmas tree, or an enormous egg), the 'B' story is Riker down on the nearest planet accidentally calling the Emperor of the Tharg people 'a smelly smelly bum-face' and having to escape from his jail cell before his failure to deliver an important message causes the planet to explode, and the 'C' story is Data learning something important about human nature by forgetting to feed his cat. Or summat. I hope that clears that up.

(this is a bastardised explanation of A, B and C storylines originally, and much better, made by either Jane Espenson or John August, or some other proper writer, I forget who)


If the show has already run a series or so, you'll start to run into the 'we like this story, but we did something similar last year' problem. Which is never nice to hear, but on the other hand, handy to know you're on the right lines. And nothing can compare to working on Bob The Builder series 5, where Bob had pretty much built all there was to build, to the extent there was serious discussion about series 6 consisting of Bob and team driving around performing an array of controlled demolitions.

The tone of the show is already set, so your storylines have to fit that tone, but at the same time not repeat anything that's come before. HB is quite a campy, melodramatic type of show, but it works best if the stories are grounded in things that could really happen - and an hour is quite a long time, so plots that are too farcical can get annoying fast. Again, you have to trust the producers' experience that they know what will run out of steam, and what won't.

My problem with fitting tone is that I often undershoot, then wildly overshoot, then only get it right on about the third attempt. This time round, I rather went the other way.

ELEMENTS OF MY FIRST DRAFT TREATMENT THAT WON'T BE MAKING IT INTO THE FINAL SCRIPT, IF A SERIES IS TO BE COMMISSIONED: the geeky, indie-music-loving professional killer (regular blog readers might spot a pattern here), the dwarf convention, the Fifties-style glamourous-housewife-style television presenter who is revealed to possess what can only be described as 'a winky' (this would have been quite tastefully done though), the Spanish crime lord masquerading as a celebrity chef, the helicopter gun battle.

Actually I'm surprised they even kept me around to do a second draft treatment, to be honest.


PK said...

Spanish crime lord/celebrity chef, and a dwarf convention? I'm there. Producers know nothing.

Writing anything for an existing TV series is a really tough job.


Tim Footman said...

"smelly smelly bum-face"


nanga parbat said...

Fanny Craddock with a cock!

Do that one! Pleeeeease!

james henry said...

Well that's the good thing about ideas being turned down, you can always use them somewhere else. I'm thinking of taking all the rejected Hotel Babylon ideas and making quite an odd musical.

Valerie said...

I already suspected this, but I've now decided your job is Hard and mine is Easy by Comparison and I won't trade. Man.

Newf said...


Boz said...

I'm left wondering what a dwarf convention would be all about. Are they convening to share experiences of being dwarves, or do they just *happen* to be dwarves at some other themed convention..

james henry said...

Actually, it wasn't really a convention, now I think of it, it was about some record company doing a press launch and getting a load of dwarves/little people in to look wacky and creative. Then you see it all from the little people's point of view, so hopefully not as reductive at that might sound.