Thursday, October 08, 2009


UPDATE: Anonymous reminds me it's a comedy 'showcase' not a comedy 'lab'. Channel 4's comedy 'lab' is that one that commissions a script, gets me to rewrite it three times then never contacts me again, the rest of my money turning up eight months later with no explanation or anything.

I had a meeting with my agent the other week, which went like this:

AGENT: So...
ME: Yes.
AGENT: You haven't had anything on telly for aaaaaaaaaages

Except I hadn't really been thinking about it, to be honest, because I've been having a jolly old time writing scripts, the last couple of which have got to the response of 'well, we like it, and will pass it to Top Important Person', and gawd knows what he or she will decide, but in the meantime let's get something else off the ground'. Which is good, because it's work, and money and stuff, but sometimes it's easy to forget the objective of the exercise is to actually get live actors reading out your words in the right order, pulling the appropriate acting faces at each point, on television.

Also a couple of things that were going to be quite solidly on television didn't go as planned, one being a kid's fantasy thing that, don't get me wrong, looks awesome, but the final result was quite far removed from the thing I'd set out to write, and the idea that had got me excited about in the first place. It was still good, but despite numerous attempts to change gear to accommodate the new version, I never quite meshed. So in the end, after quite a lot of rewrites, I decided the only honest thing to do was take my name off the script, and let someone else crack on with it. The other thing was a quite slick BBC show that got cancelled just as I was about to crack on with my episode, bah.

Fortunately, the remaining projects, which were completely mine, are still ticking along quite happily, hurrah, and Campus, the Comedy Lab pilot I co-wrote along with my lovely Green Wing chums and a couple of new people, who we all bullied at first, but eventually learnt to grudgingly respect, is coming out in November some time, hurrah!

Campus is a one-off comedy, set in a university. If it goes down well, we hope to get a series. Then, a couple of days ago, we discovered there was another one-off comedy doing the rounds, that was set in a university, and hoped to get a series. And this one stars Ian McKellan.

The Academy

It does look damn good actually (and I haven't seen ours, only read the script, which traditionally bears the same resemblance to the final result as Hitler's drawings of himself doing number two's in Stalin's office had to the outcome of the WWII). And it's got Ian McKellan in it, as in Magneto and Gandalf. Shiiiiiiiit.

Fortunately, ours stars Andy Nyman, who fought zombies in 'Dead Set', had his leg taken off in James Moran's 'Severance', and is Derren Brown's producer. And a magician in real life.


Unknown said...

That one does look quite good, but I did only laugh out loud right at the end...that was a good one there. But it might be funnier in context of the whole show - I'm just not a fan of the faux-documentary comedy. Never particularly enjoyed The Office, for example.

REALLY curious about this kid's fantasy thing by the way. So want to know what it is. A clue?

James Henry said...

Stylistically, I think Campus will be very different, which is good.

Hmm, probably better not drop too many hints for the fantasy thing, as I worry it looks like I'm slagging it off, whereas in fact it does like it'll be pretty cool - it just went off in a different direction, and I found it hard to keep up up. The second draft of the script was almost a complete rewrite, for what was almost a different show entirely, and mentally I just couldn't make the leap.

I think if I'd just got as far as the outline, or the scene by scene, it would have been okay, but once you've got the characters actually speaking dialogue, and being funny, and caring about each other, it's surprisinly difficult to go back to the drawing board and start again from scratch.

I did a few rewrites, as I said, but it became apparent the gap between how much I could change the old episode, and the new vision they had for the series was too large. And time was becoming a factor, so I decided to step aside and let someone else have a crack. I'm pleased to say it was all terribly amicable - and the sort of thing that happens quite often behind the scenes, to be honest.

Matt Borg said...

The Academy looks good, but there's a definite tone there which might not suit a sustained comedy. As a one off, could be excellent. Plus, it's got The Doctor in it!

Looking forward to Campus. Can you hint any more about when we are likely to see it?

James Henry said...

'November' is all the info I have - will put specific up if I get it.

Oli said...

I don't see that being a runaway hit, you'll be dandy.

Unknown said...

Well, if it's any consolation, my writing partner and I (beginners thought we are) wrote a university-set sitcom almost 2 years ago. Got it to a writer we met, who gave us some pointers and encouraged us to keep going... then we heard about your 'Campus'! You psychic concept-stealers. I mean, fair dos, yours will probably be much better, but still. The synopsis sounds bloody identical.

I've been internalising the rage for some time, can you tell? Wishing you the best of luck with it really!

James Henry said...

Ooh dear, sorry about that. If it's any help, when Green Wing first came out, a load of other hospital based sitcoms came out at the same time, it was most annoying. 'Campus' may well come and go, and be forgotten about. And if yours is well-written, and funny, and I'm sure it is, it'll get you more work, if nothing else.

PK said...

Pah, it's not Ian McKellen I'd be worried about, it's Sylvester "I used to hammer nails up my nose for a laugh" McCoy who will be their greatest weapon.

In fairness I think both comedies will be very different, and very good.

Am just surprised The Academy got made, because the one thing I've constantly been told over the years is that producers don't like to produce scripts with actors in them. Maybe The Academy will change that. Maybe my West End based comedy will finally get made. Maybe Ian McKellen will agree to be the lead. Maybe he'll remember me leaving the original script in his car. Maybe Sir Ian and I will become best friends like I've always dreamed. Maybe that pesky barring order will be lifted. Maybe, just maybe...

(My verification word just came up: "avera", which is what Sir Ian used to act with in Corrie. Oooh, spooky.)

Imo said...

Surely there's no competition, Campus is written by the Bafta winning team behind GW.

Steve Dix said...

You're going to find this really odd, but I've written a couple of sketches for a german comedy show called Comedylab as well.

Anonymous said...

its a comedy showcase , not a comedy lab james, there is a difference you know!

James Henry said...

You're right, I will amend immediately.