Friday, May 18, 2012

Five reasons television commissioning editors have my sympathies.

No-one made me write this, I promise. But here's the other side of the coin, as I would have gone on to write if I'd had a bit longer than 550 words for the original article. This is mostly about comedy commissioning, but a lot applies to drama as well, I suspect.

1. Over-Communication. Television commissioners (of all stripes) only have to make the slightest comment/gesture, whereupon it instantly gets picked up on by every media site/social network, then handed down from producers to writer as though channelling the word of God. Commissioners, as much as writers, are in a difficult position. After all, it's not as if they DEMAND this stuff, they're really just saying what they're a bit short of (and remember, the BBC at least have a duty to try and satisfy every part of their audience) and then everyone goes nuts trying to satisfy the perceived demand.

Only a few years ago there were murmurings from the BBC that could really do with something in the way of a sketch show for people in the thirty something bracket - at which point at least three production companies sprang into action to plug that gap (I got to write for one of them). Nine months later, BAM, suddenly there's a glut of unfortunately rather similar shows, not all of which you could entirely describe as 'inspired'.

2. Commissioners can't just commission material to their own tastes. For the Beeb at least, this goes back to the public service thing. I kind of wish they did, because commissioners tend to be reasonably bright, and often like the same sort of thing I do: smart, self-aware comedies like 'Community' or 'Arrested Development' from the US, '15 Storeys High' in the UK or 'Dat Limmy's Show' which only plays in BBC Scotland (although you can get a DVD of series 1, buy it buy it buy it).

Sadly, this kind of comedy often seem to struggle for ratings, although I always wonder if this is just a lack of commitment by the people supposed to market this stuff, who fear it's simply too clever for normal people.

Here's my favourite Limmy Show sketch:

Would 'Limmy's Show' be a huge success if the schedulers put it on in the rest of the UK at pretty much prime time? I happen to think it would, but we'll never know, because no scheduler's got the balls/ovaries/clout to try it, so there's kind of a self-defeating circle here.

3. The days when a commissioner could give a writer a sum of money and say 'there you are, don't fuck it up', have pretty much gone. There are layers of exec producers, producers and script editors between commissioner and writer these days, and plenty more execs standing in the way of the commissioner throwing his or her cash around willy-nilly (lol, 'nilly').

4. I do suspect all commissioners have, at an early stage of their career, championed some script they absolutely love, ushering it gently through the entire production process, only to see it stuck on at stupid o'clock, where it's trounced in the ratings by a repeat episode of some reality show starring people called things like 'Z-Wow' and 'The Happening'. This must have some sort of knock-on effect to morale, surely.

5. They occasionally have to deal with comedy writers. And comedy writers are AWFUL PEOPLE.

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