16 March, 2006

Comedy Lab - Advance warning

Channel 4's Comedy Lab is due to be announced soon. Rather than rush write a script a week before the deadline based on the first idea I think of, as usual, I'm beginning to think of new ideas now and revisiting my ideas book.

I need an interesting fresh premise but more importantly I need fresh characters and a fresh central relationship. I also need something that can be considered for BBC3 in the unlikely event it isn't snapped up by Channel 4.

Actually, although you can send your script directly to Channel 4, by sending it to an independent production company they will develop it, if they like it obviously, before submitting it themselves. That's another advantage of starting early. If you have one or two finished scripts ready when the competition is announced then there's plenty of time to try and get prodco interest first.

The Comedy Lab is quite eclectic; there have been straight single set dramas, documentaries, single camera gentle comedies, single camera wacky comedies, satirical drama. Although, thinking about it, I don't recall an audience sitcom.

So feel free to do something other than a traditional sitcom and blur the boundaries between genres but they would obviously love a funny, popular, narrative comedy. If you know established performers then try and hook up with them. But even if you don't know them, it might be worth a shot pitching something to them. For instance I like Russell Brand and maybe I have a comedy quiz show that he would be perfect for. Maybe my sitcom simply has to have Lucy Porter in it. They might tell you to take a run and jump but they might say yes.

One or two of the last Comedy Lab season had series potential but others worked as one-offs only. Having an idea sustainable over at least six episodes is preferable and more likely to be commissioned but don't let that put you off submitting a one-off if that's all you have.

I loved the Meet the Magoons comedy lab, when not many seemed to, but the subsequent series was extremely disappointing and ended up being C4's worst performing comedy series ever, if I recall correctly. But it's still useful to see what made them commission it. Take away the subjective humour (mainly homophobia and male nudity) and there are things to learn from the premise e.g. regarding the workplace and the family. The same with successful comedies like Phoenix Nights. Often we're too busy laughing to work out how they did it, so maybe watch an episode a few times. Maybe do a transcript of one. Does the humour rely mainly on plot or character? What are the key relationships? How many characters are there? How many locations? What's the main one? Is the humour subtle or wacky or a mixture of both?

While it's useful to analyse good shows, and maybe bad shows, I think it's important not to over-analyse and to stay true to our own unique writer's voice. If you've been rejected a lot you might lose faith in your abilities and think the solution is studying and copying successful sitcoms, - whether you like them or not. I think the solution is studying them but transferring the good principles learned into our own work, our own worlds, our own humour.

Channel 4 comedy producers brief

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