31 July, 2008
Party Animals created by Robert Jones and Ben Richards. Written by Ben Richards.
"We began with a handful of characters: the young backroom staff of British politics. Through their eyes, we tried to capture the buzz of being so close to power, to create a show that didn't take itself too seriously, but could tackle significant subjects in a witty way.
In the end, you don't need an interest in politics to enjoy the series. It's a workplace like many others, but with its own special brand of office gossip and competition." Simon Heath, Executive Producer, BBC Press Pack
30 July, 2008
Go to his YouTube channel and subscribe to ensure that you know immediately when new videos are uploaded.
Producers Secrets for Screenwriters
Lilies by Heidi Thomas
My Lilies review
"The Lilies scripts were quite unlike anything I had read before. They were funny, surprising, and made me cry. Above all else, I knew that the Mosses were a family I instantly cared about, and wanted to spend time with. It has a bold, dangerous edge that makes it very modern – the sense that at any moment, the rug might be pulled from under you." Chrissy Skinns, Producer, Lilies Press Pack
29 July, 2008
He Kills Coppers by Ed Whitmore (based on the book by Jake Arnott)
"The time constraints are huge but the strength of Ed’s adaptation is that he has concentrated much more on the emotional motivation and energy of the characters. After all, that is what has to drive viewers through three one hour episodes. I think in the novel there is more opportunity to talk about what’s going on around the characters, to present some of the historical perspective, whereas in a scene you have about three minutes to establish where you are." Jake Arnott
He Kills Coppers - press pack (Word file)
28 July, 2008
27 July, 2008
26 July, 2008
With The Dark Knight, the Nolans have ditched the fractured and slightly dull story-telling of Batman Begins to give us a linear fast-paced character-driven action-adventure that makes even the brilliant Iron Man look decidedly rusty.
Wall-E wasn't quite the masterpiece I was expecting but The Dark Knight is the masterpiece I never expected. It's intelligent and complex without being pretentious and over-complicated. It satisfied my blood-lust and also made me think.
The battle between Batman and the Joker isn't just a physical one but one of ideas, that reverberate beyond Gotham City limits. The relationship and parallels between them are very effective but it isn't just about them - there are other characters whose destinies are affected by this epic battle. Just how do you react to terrorism?
Before I saw the film I thought calls for Heath Ledger to get an Oscar was sentimental toss, I understand what they mean now. It's a powerfully affecting performance which is all the more remarkable due to the ambiguity of the character's background and motivations.
From the Guardian to Variety, columnists feel the need to piss on the parade by claiming The Dark Knight isn't worth giving a damn about purely by basis of its genre and originating material, which is a little dumb. Jeph Loeb's The Long Halloween comic book, which inspired the screenplay, is also worth checking out.
Believe the hype, The Dark Knight is highly recommended.
25 July, 2008
Phoo Action , created by Jamie Hewlett. Written by Mat Wakeham and Peter Martin. Script consultant Jessica Hynes
Interview with Jamie Hewlett and Mat Wakeham
Mat Wakeham article, The Guardian
Phoo must be joking, The Stage
24 July, 2008
23 July, 2008
"There isn't a more important issue in the world than global warming. Even the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs crisis were a notional threat. A warming planet isn't just a threat – it's happening. The idea of concealing the potentially indigestible politics of climate change in the 'Trojan horse' of a thriller seemed a good way to engage an audience. Whether it works, we're about to find out..." Simon Beaufoy, writer of Burn Up.
Simon Beaufoy interview 1
Simon Beaufoy interview 2
""Carbon dioxide is a direct by-product of burning oil," Tom McConnell, the hero of this topical eco-thriller, informs a US congressional hearing. Did you know that? I think you probably did; and so, I'd guess, would most members of Congress. But in the course of this two-part story (concludes Friday), the characters spend their waking hours telling other people things they'd already know unless they were idiots. So: "Be careful, $13 billion profits bring with them enormous power," warns oil boss Mark Foxbay as he hands over the reins at Arrow Oil to son-in-law Tom (Rupert Penry-Jones). Now, Tom knows what profits they make and the power he'll have; the line's just there to impress us.
After a while, you realise the whole story works like this, with characters hectoring one another about rising sea levels, melting ice and solar power until we get the message. It's one big, green lecture, thinly disguised as drama. Luckily, the drama it's disguised as has sharp scenes and an engaging supporting cast, notably Marc Warren (as a shadowy goodie) and Bradley Whitford (as a shadowy baddie). And no-one would deny that the message, however thickly laid on, does matter. "
David Butcher, Radio Times
For those of us going for serials and not series for the Red Planet Prize then this would be worth catching. It's a big story and about something the author cares a lot about. Are our own serials like that?
22 July, 2008
21 July, 2008
However, I now realise that we're competing against other people who can do good dialogue, strong stories and vivid characters and it's the potential of the premise that will get both executives and ultimately the audience interested.
Even allowing for the disparities between the BBC and ITV in terms of funding and the amount of trailer time, the original Bonekickers got nearly twice as many people interested in watching its début than the familiar Harley Street managed. In the long run, hypothetically, Harley Street could retain all of its audience and Bonekickers could keep losing one and a half million viewers each week but the important thing is getting the audience watching in the first place to sample the show and keep them watching beyond the first ten minutes.
I love pilots and I've seen almost every pilot broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic in the past few years. Even if I wasn't writing as a hobby I probably would still be watching them and reading the scripts because it's fascinating to try and predict their success or failure.
For those of us who have doubts about their ability to write a pilot for the Red Planet Prize let me stress just how completely rubbish a lot of those pilots were and yet they made it to air. I've also seen a lot of non-broadcast pilots and I can't believe the millions of money wasted on such obviously flawed scripts.
While there are pilots that are just badly written, that's actually quite rare. What is more common is that the show has a flawed concept. Either it's too derivative of another show or it hasn't got the long-running potential or the story/characters are under-developed or not interesting enough. One early cancelled show had a great concept and characters but the creator/showrunner couldn't break stories to save their life.
When we come up with a good concept then it's useful to try and think of episode stories for the rest of the series and even for the next season. The idea might work well for a pilot or even a few episodes but we're got to look beyond that to 6 or 13 episodes and then another 6 or 13 the following year. While you haven't got to have it planned out to to the minute, should a producer ask us what happens in series 2, we should be able to answer confidently instead of trying to make something up on the spot. And "whatever you want to happen, sir" isn't an answer.
Although you can interpret all that as "If experienced writers fail so often then I'm bound to fail", instead I think we can look at it as "if experienced writers fail so often then there's plenty of opportunities for new writers to get a break."
We're not writing shooting scripts and it hasn't got to be absolutely perfect, that's what development is for. The only thing we need to do is try in the first place and make it the best we can.
"The industry is full of people who'll go for a mechanism before they'll go with instinct. You just have to write with honesty. Emotional truth is the most powerful thing you've got." Paul Abbott
"What has to happen? For me, I have to find myself in the writing. I have to fall in love with my story. I have to share a common emotion with my characters. I become intimate with what I’m trying to say, and my story becomes honest." Gordy Hoffman
"Finding a concept or precinct that will offer enough stories to maintain 6 or 8 parts, and that can return, is a real challenge. It's about creating a world that people really want to visit, creating characters they can care about, and that's tough to achieve." Sophie Gardiner
"Besides, the Red Planet prize, as fun and important as it is, is only one target. Realistically, I have to be prepared that only the first ten pages will get read. But I will have a pilot and series breakdown to continue working on and refining. So everyone's a winner. Hooray and - if I might be so bold - marvellous!" Stuart Perry
I shall be posting the cold open or teaser of some dramas over the next few weeks - if I'm not made to cease and desist.
20 July, 2008
19 July, 2008
They don't offer much in the way of prizes but if successful it's a good way to build up our CVs and experience. If unsuccessful, they're still great writing exercises we can learn from.
Theatre Grand Slam - London only
Seeking short, sharp and witty plays for a popular theatre event in South London.
Scripts must not be more than eight minutes long, require no more than five actors and have very basic lighting/sound/set requirements.
One group of actors perform each play then the audience votes for their favourite. The emphasis is on originality, variety and entertainment, rather than pages of dialogue in which nothing happens!
Apart from a lot of fun, this is an excellent way to try out ideas on an audience before developing further.
Please do not send plays previously submitted.
ALL writers must be based in or around London and able to attend the event in late-August.
Send script/scripts with a short writer biog to email@example.com
Deadline: 21 July 2008
We will consider submissions in any style or genre, for one to five actors, of 5 to 15 minutes performance time, based (loosely) on the theme of ‘Harvest Festival’. Writers are encouraged to interpret the theme as widely as possible – whether it’s harvest, fertility, Hallowe’en, thanksgiving that is your stimulus.
Pieces should involve one simple, single setting with minimal furniture and only absolutely necessary props, although pieces will be considered if the use of more than one scene can be justified. Both comedy and drama pieces can be submitted, as can multiple submissions to a maximum of three short (5 minutes or under) and two longer (10-15 minutes).
Pieces will be selected for originality and impact in interpreting the central theme, as well as accomplishment in terms of narrative, structure, characterisation and use of sound/music, and for their ‘playablility’ on a practical level.
Pieces must be written using a recognised industry format, e.g. SmartScript, which is available to download free at the BBC Writers Room website. Screenplays, TV Scripts and previously performed submissions will not be considered, so please do not send them.
Submissions will be shortlisted in early August, with a view to further development with selected writers, cast and the Creative Team in preparation for a fully staged, script-in-hand performance at The Carriageworks, Leeds, on Friday 31st October or Saturday 1st November 2008.
Please send to: firstname.lastname@example.org Please include a brief synopsis and full contact details including name, address and telephone number.
Deadline: 31 July 2008
/ Free /
Playday - North based writers only
Cloud Nine Theatre Company is inviting new scripts for its latest PlayDay project, which will see two plays chosen for performance in front
of a live audience in the Autumn. Plays should be 30 minutes in length and capable of performance with a cast of four. Only previously unperformed work should be sent.
Send scripts to or obtain more details from:
Peter Mortimer, Cloud Nine, 5 Marden Terrace, Cullercoats, North Shields, NE30 4PD
Tel: 0191 253 1901 or email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline: 31 July 2008
/ Free /
Artificial Light requires new short sketches/plays for possible entry into the Emergency Festival at the Greenroom, Manchester, Sept 2008.
Scripts should meet the following criteria:
- Between 10 - 30 mins long
- Interpreted or written specifically for a physical theatre style
- Small, young cast
- Minimum props/scenery
For more information contact Mary G Hooton at: email@example.com
Deadline: 31 July 2008
/ Free /
Elvis is in the Building
A Writing Competition from the People Who Brought you Pub Scripts
Those of you who know Pub Scripts will know the form. As always, we are inviting writers to pen original, short, two-hander play s… but this time the theme is … lazengennelmen … Elvis Presley.
Comedy, tragedy, melodrama, sideburns ... these things and more made up the life and times of Elvis Presley.
Everyone has a story... if yours is for two actors, maximum 10 minutes long and something to do with Elvis, we want to read it!
To help with the task, our panel of judges will be providing friendly and constructive feedback to all our writers - as well as an experienced and versatile cast of local actors and an appreciative audience for your play, which will be performed as usual in pubs and arts venues in South Cumbria.
For guidelines and an entry form, email John Hall, Project Co-Ordinator on firstname.lastname@example.org or download them here:
Deadline: 31 July 2008
/ under £5/
Pint-Sized Plays Writing Competition
How much drama or comedy can you pack into a five or ten minute play? Pint-sized Plays is your opportunity to show just how imaginative and
original you can be. It can be funny, it can be sad... If it can be performed in a pub, with two or three characters, you could be a winner of Pint-sized Plays.
The "winning plays"* will all be performed in pubs in Pembrokeshire starting this Autumn, during the Tenby Arts Festival, and then in other pubs around the county.
(*The performance appears to be the prize.)
Further details: http://www.pintsizedplays.org.uk
Deadline: 8 August 2008
/ under £5/
Soho Writers' Centre Newsletter
Playwrights Studio Scotland
Added to Deadlines Calendar
18 July, 2008
Tim Teeman, The Times
You can see why ITV wants to get us all excited about Harley Street. It’s a sexy address: the best plastic surgeons and private doctors on one street curing the ailments and servicing the vanities of the super-rich. There is so much right-on UK medical drama – quite right, we invented the NHS and all that – that surely it’s time to wallow a bit. If only we could have the courage to execute such a frivolous ambition.
The first stumbling block is Paul Nicholls as Dr Robert Fielding: it’s just really hard to buy Nicholls as a sexy chap who cannot progress down a corridor without nurses throwing themselves in his path like lovesick lemmings. He’s perfectly nice and everything but . . .
Robert works one shift at his local NHS hospital (good!), before throwing off his scrubs and putting on the Armani suit for some Harley Street action (boo, hiss – money, money, money, bad, bad, bad). Nicholls is handsome but he hasn’t got presence. His character is allegedly conflicted about private and public healthcare but that conflict doesn’t exactly hum from every pore. He doesn’t twinkle. Would he sexually charge you, or be a perfectly pleasant lunch companion?
He also has absolutely no chemistry with Suranne Jones, who played Karen McDonald, one of my all-time favourite Coronation Street banshees, but who here talks as if she has a plum in her mouth. Jones plays Martha, Robert’s Harley Street consulting partner. Naturally – this is stereotype central after all – Martha and Robert have an electric, unrequited flirtation; she is appalled but admiring at his seduction routine, but has a severe bob so says reproachful things about him being “committed” to the practice. The bob goes a bit wavy when she strokes her ickle daughter’s hair – yes, she’s a single mother.
Shaun Parkes plays the third of the Harley Street team – will he have the filler storyline every week? He spent the first episode trying to liberate a young woman from the grip of a rich moron who wanted her to have needless plastic surgery. In the background hovered the ex-EastEnders actress Kim Medcalf, playing a nice, mostly mute receptionist.
Quite apart from all these rackety, boring characters, Harley Street is far too low on fun. The main storyline of this opening episode – singularly failing to live up to all the sexy, dripping in diamonds, champagne and sex-sodden hype – was a miserable Casualty-ish offcut. Will Mellor played one half of a couple expecting a baby, except – in that coalescing just-when-you-thought-it-couldn’t-get-any-worse scenario – he was on lithium and thought she was having an affair, she had a medical condition but didn’t tell him, he walked out on her, she died after giving birth, he finally accepted their baby was his.
Too much misery. You want countesses getting their young gigolo’s sperm counted, or pop stars overdosing on Botox. The credits and the vibe of the show cock a snook to Footballers’ Wives, but Harley Street hasn’t got even a smidgeon of the latter’s outrageous DNA.
Do not prep the patient for surgery yet. There are promising signs: a sleazy doctor is trying to seduce Martha and Robert is already bonking the daughter of some rich bloke whose patronage he is seeking. But, oh no, misery alert: here comes Robert’s dad and he cares about the NHS, not this posh medicine nonsense. He’s gruff, of course, and inevitably from the North – so a thousand times more genuine and to be trusted than those lily-livered Londoners. Can he die of his renal thingummybob asap, and then can the corruption, bed-hopping and cocaine-spattered merriment really begin?
Patricia Wynn Davies, Daily Telegraph
Well, there’s nothing like aiming for the top. The discussion about the public/private split in health care and the future of the NHS becomes ever more heated, but this new six-part drama places its protagonists in no lesser setting than 195 Harley Street in London’s glittering West End. But conscience pricks.
Dr Robert Fielding (Paul Nicholls) swaps his sumptuous surroundings for the thrills and spills of acting as a locum at the local A&E. When he’s not chasing the girls, that is. His colleague Martha Elliott (Suranne Jones) has no such public service hang-ups. She’s a psychologist whose mind-healing activities fortunately leave plenty of time for empire-building, since she is conniving to buy the patient list of an unlikeable establishment misogynist named Harvey Cost (James Fox in splendidly arch form).
The third partner, Dr Ekkow Oblang (Shaun Parkes), is a plastic surgeon who hasn’t quite sold his soul; he’s determined to save a teenage model from having to submit to unnecessary cosmetic surgery at the behest of her sleazy manager and does so in spectacular, if somewhat couldn’t-make-it-up, style. As may be surmised, Harley Street is all about entertainment, not gritty, life-saving conundrums.
James Walton, Daily Telegraph
Last night brought some bad news for BBC1’s new archaeological drama Bonekickers. Its proud and seemingly unassailable position as the worst TV drama of the summer is already under serious threat.
ITV1’s Harley Street is, as you might guess, a medical series with a cunning difference. Only in the opening scene did Dr Robert Fielding (Paul Nicholls) run about an NHS ward looking harassed, and panting out such lines as “You call this a modern health service?” After that, he had a shower, put on a nice suit and headed for the wood-panelled consulting rooms of private medicine, where a scary woman was waiting for his arrival. “I have two companies and 20 top-tier managers to keep in peak medical condition,” she barked. “Why should I choose you as their GP?”
In fact, given a rudimentary knowledge of modern TV drama, you could probably guess the rest of the set-up as well. Sure enough, Robert’s boss, Dr Martha Elliot (Suranne Jones), is a feisty stunner in high heels who manages to be uncompromisingly tough without ever forgetting that she’s A Woman Too.
Even so, the programme only revealed its truly terrible colours once the plots began. One of Robert’s patients, for example, was Joe Lacey (Will Mellor), a celebrity chef with bi-polar disorder and a wife nine months’ pregnant. Because of his mental fragility, his wife Danni (Morven Christie) had decided not to tell him about her heart condition that would make giving birth extremely dangerous. Instead, she merely informed him that she’d had an affair nine months before and that the baby might not be his.
Joe, as it turned out, would much rather have heard about the heart condition – and after he’d run off into the night, a distraught Danni tried to kill the foetus by lighting up a single cigarette. When that unaccountably failed, she pummelled her stomach a couple of times. This induced a labour that did indeed prove fatal – but only to her. Joe was last seen insisting that Robert tear up the unopened results of the paternity test and, with the programme’s obvious approval, tearfully accepting the baby as his daughter, whatever her biological origins may be.
Meanwhile, the plot that looks like running for several episodes owes more to a traditional mergers-and-acquisitions business drama than a medical one. Early on, Martha flirted her way through lunch with wealthy old Dr Harvey Cost (James Fox), who’s on the brink of retirement and has 2,000 patients to pass on. “A chance like this comes along once or twice in a career,” she explained to Robert. “I want to go for this.” (“You usually get what you want,” he duly replied.)
She does, however, have a rival – in the smooth-talking form of Dr Felix Quinn (Oliver Dimsdale). Felix would clearly like a partnership with Martha in more ways than one, having already served up the memorable chat-up line, “I wanted to congratulate you on your article in The Lancet”. Yet, although she’s now kissed him, she also seems to fancy Robert, despite being worried that his much-mentioned “unreliable” behaviour might jeopardise the deal with Dr Cost.
For a while, mind you, we were in the dark as to what that unreliable behaviour might consist of. Luckily, though, Dr Cost filled us in. As part of the schmoozing process, Robert visited Cost’s country house where the man was inevitably sporting a flat cap, wellies, a Barbour jacket and a large rifle. “I know two things about you,” said Cost by way of greeting. “You’re a first-rate doctor and a classic leg-over artist.” (He followed that with the charming observation that “all the pretty girls forget their knickers for a man with a stethoscope.”) Helpfully confirming the point, Robert then went off for some vigorous sex in the wine cellar with a blonde stranger, who’s since revealed herself to be Cost’s daughter – and therefore, in the circumstances, unchuckable.
This is particularly unfortunate for Robert, and not only because he’s now stuck with the woman, even though she looks like proving spoilt and horrible. It also means that he might have to turn down some of the other flirty minxes who surround him on every side. In that opening scene, for instance, one of his typically clunking lines was, “Who do you have to sleep with round here to find an ECG machine?” “I finish at seven,” a passing nurse replied.
So, will Harley Street really prove worse than Bonekickers? Well, the dialogue certainly has the same ability to serve up jaw-dropping corniness on an almost constant basis. The main characters seem no more like genuine doctors than Professor Magwilde’s team seem like genuine archaeologists. The plots in both cases can make even experienced TV-drama viewers rub their eyes in disbelief.
And yet my guess is that, in the end, Bonekickers’ crown will be safe. Harley Street may be dreadful in a more grindingly predictable (rather than utterly bonkers) way – which should tell against it. On the other hand, it does seem to understand at some level that it’s a cheerfully trashy piece of television, and not a serious meditation on major historical themes. Nor, importantly, is there the same sense of the waste of great actors. After all, Harley Street is heavily staffed with former soap stars – which feels about right. In Bonekickers, the presence of Hugh Bonneville and Adrian Lester remains a mystery far more baffling than any in the programme’s scripts.
Robert Hanks, The Independent
The arrival on our screens of Harley Street, a drama set in the world of private medicine, seems like some sort of watershed. But what sort? Is it evidence of the growing acceptability of private medicine, that popular faith in publicly funded medicine is no longer a given? Or is it simply that TV has been so saturated with NHS-based medical dramas that private is the only route left?
Probably the second of those, since the whole programme is desperate to hedge its bets, on the one hand trying to sex things up with gloss, glamour and greed, on the other reassuring us every few minutes that it's all about helping people. The series opened with our hero, Dr Robert Fielding (Paul Nicholls), bustling through a night shift in a London NHS hospital, striding briskly down the wards, demanding test results, flirting with stray nurses, breaking off to deal with a teenager who'd just come in with a bullet in his gut. But soon he was into his shiny car and whizzing off through implausibly empty streets to meet a prospective corporate client at his private practice. He's a go-getter, we're given to understand, but a go-getter with a conscience. It rapidly emerged that he's also a maverick and a "loose cannon" – don't you ever feel a yen for a television drama about a clock-punching, greasy-pole-climbing jobsworth? – a role that entails lots of strenuously sexual banter with any woman who wanders across his sightlines, and regular pep talks from his partner, Dr Martha Elliot (Suranne Jones), about shaping up if they're going to build the business. But even those bouts of entrepreneurialism are sugared with softer, caring lines about making medicine more approachable, helping the customer, oops, patient feel at home.
The result is a drama that feels oddly confused. It wants to give you moral dilemmas, but isn't sure what counts. One storyline in the first episode had the third partner in the practice, Dr Ekkow Obiang (Shaun Parkes), off to a "Botox party", organised by a sleazy model agent, where he took cash to pump Botox into the faces of young, apparently wrinkle-free women. But it turned out the agent was grooming one girl for the top, and for her it was not just Botox but the works: tucks, lifts, implants. Discovering that the girl was miserable to the point of carving up her arms, Dr Ekkow set about solving her problems, first finding her a new agent, then getting the old agent over and taunting him about his penis size, while the model stood in the background looking all happy and empowered. Exactly what any competent psychiatrist would recommend as therapy for young women with low self-esteem and self-harming tendencies, I'm sure, but if Dr Ekkow is so darned responsible and concerned, how come he was wandering around with an attaché case full of Botox in the first place?
Meanwhile, Drs Robert and Martha were getting all worked up about a severely bipolar author and his adulterous, heavily pregnant wife, who had a potentially fatal heart condition. This plot was resolved with her death and his decision to bring the child up regardless of the possibility that it might not be his. Personally, I wasn't sure that dead mum, medication-avoiding manic- depressive dad and strong doubts about parentage counted as a good start in life. Elsewhere, Dr Robert got grief from his old leftie dad, who doesn't hold with private medicine, while Dr Martha schmoozed a retiring medical grandee (James Fox) in the hope of netting his business. Grandee turned out to be the father of the upper-class nympho who kept turning up and randomly pulling Dr Robert's clothes off. This one is apparently set to run and run. Me, too, in the opposite direction.
Sarah Dempster, The Guardian
"Harley Street's an exciting place, but I never forget that medicine and healing are what I'm there for," explains handsome maverick Dr Robert Fielding (Paul Nicholls) to a nodding client, thus deftly encapsulating the essence of this new medical drama's USP. That is: a) explosive exposition in an oleaginous, Hippocratically sound base, and b) a script that smells like a month-old bandage. Though certain elements (persistent boffing, nice woodwork, etc) look suitably glossy, its insistence on shoehorning in Serious Issues is as pointless as it is irksome. Tonight, we meet the attractive staff of the practice while struggling to give a flying one about a bipolar celebrity chef and a troubled young model.
Sam Wollaston, The Guardian
Toffs used to have to keep quiet about being toffs - dress down and keep their heads down, estuarise their vowel sounds. Now, in these post-Alastair Campbell days, they're braying from the rooftops. Two out of three political parties - plus London - have Hooray Henrys at the helm. Then on telly there's Trinny, Susannah, Ladette to Lady, an Etonian starring in The Wire, Lucinda in The Apprentice ... see what I mean? And now here's Harley Street (ITV1). Ten years ago, you'd never have got a prime-time series commissioned about private medicine. What next? Grange Hill is reborn at Harrow? Prime-time polo on Sky Sports? CrouchEnders?
Maybe it's just a way of getting yet another medical drama on to the telly, because everyone loves a doc show, just as everyone loves a cop show. And everything else has been covered - inner-city A&E, country practices, plastic surgery, animal doctors. Harley Street is all there is left.
Actually, it starts in a busy south London NHS hospital, because handsome Dr Robert Fielding, played by Paul Nicholls, has a conscience, and wants to honour his debt to the taxpayer for putting him through medical school. It's bedlam in there - chaotic, under-resourced, overstretched, with gunshot victims, shouting, waiting lists, police and lots of noise. Holby, basically. But then, at the end of his night shift at the hospital, Dr Fielding steps into his silver Audi and speeds across town to London W1. He showers, symbolically washing away the muck, the smell and the ugliness of the NHS, then emerges, naked and dripping, to be greeted by his handsome partner Dr Martha Elliot, played by Suranne Jones.
And that's how it goes. There are lots of handsome ladies about the place; handsome Dr Fielding often ends up naked with them. I've never been to Harley Street, but if this is what it's really like, then it looks brilliant. The docs don't just give you hours of their time and sort out your health, they will also become your friend, lend a shoulder to cry on, give you Botox, sleep with you if that's what you want. Everyone wears excellent and expensive-looking underwear, the sort of underwear that is designed to come off quickly. There are no drunks, screaming babies, language problems, bad-tempered receptionists, or long waits. It's nothing at all like the general practice I go to. I need to get rich and go to Harley Street.
This is not excellent drama, though. It certainly doesn't convince: its attempts at real issues are laughable (even mental illness has to be given the glam treatment - so the manic depressive is also a celebrity chef). There's no one you really care about, no one whose pain you share. But then nor is it Footballers' Wives - knowingly ridiculous and funny. It's froth without the fun, lacking humour and soul; but then it sold its own soul by going private. I'll check in for one more appointment, and if there's no improvement after that, I'm going back to Casualty, Holby and the NHS.
That said, someone's obviously been listening to my prayers, because this week sees the launch of yet another formulaic medical drama. Director of Drama for ITV, Laura Mackie, describes Harley Street as "aspirational", which in itself is enough to make me want to grab it with tongs and fling it into the nearest laundry basket.
As you've probably gathered, the action takes place in and around a posh private practice, the sole difference between this and every other programme in the genre. To ensure that we're not turned off by moneyed doctors administering expert medical care to the privileged, the lead character is a working-class lad made good who moonlights for the NHS at a busy A&E. What a terrific human being.
This almost determinedly uninspired series looks, sounds and smells like virtually every other mainstream drama out there. It doesn't even distinguish itself by being camp or ridiculous. It's just dull (despite the "racy" sex scenes), and there's nothing to suggest that it would be worth tuning into even if every other channel decided to play non-stop repeats of Mahabharat for the next six weeks.
Overnights: 3.9 million (17.5%)
17 July, 2008
"Set in London's famous medical district, Harley Street gets behind the facade of suave medics treating celebrity and wealthy patients. Our private practice is run by three doctors: Martha Elliot, Robert Fielding and cosmetic surgeon Ekkow Obiang. While each has their unique approach to their job, all three medics are outsiders in the closed world of high-end private care dominated by white, privately-educated men."
"Harley Street is a contemporary and original medical drama starring Paul Nicholls, Suranne Jones and Shaun Parkes.
Produced by Carnival Film and Television, Harley Street is a glossy, post-watershed 6-part drama series set in London’s famous medical district, in a new stylish Harley Street practice.
With an ethos of providing first rate, ‘wraparound’ health care, the private practice is run by three GPs, Martha Elliot (Suranne Jones), Robert Fielding (Paul Nicholls) and cosmetic surgeon and GP Ekkow Obiang (Shaun Parkes). Each is equally dynamic, proactive and passionate about delivering the best standards of care, round the clock, 24/7.
Created by Marston Bloom, who also writes the first two episodes, Harley Street features a world in which doctors are with their patients every step of the medical journey, from lifestyle surgery to unusual and often life-threatening medical cases. It focuses on the complex personal relationships of the doctors who are continually forced to make life and death decisions while trying to find balance between their work and home life.
Martha has grown up the daughter of a Harley Street practitioner, and although a top flight doctor in her own right, her background brings “a touch of class” to the practice.
Robert is a working class lad, who has spent seven years devoted to his NHS training, and despite ‘the flash car and sexy suits’ he repays the system that trained him by working night shifts in a busy hospital A&E.
Ekkow also has the looks and the sharp suits. With a background in reconstructive plastic surgery, Ekkow is highly trained and a skilled cosmetic surgeon who knows how to make his patients feel good. Ekkow is also a constant support for Martha with his GP case load which contrasts with Robert’s often unpredictable approach to their practice.
“The characters are well defined and multi-layered from the outset. You feel you know who they are from the moment you meet them. Everyone can relate to the medical genre, but Harley Street is different, and our approach ensures the series doesn’t occupy television territory that’s gone before,” said Executive Producer Christopher Aird.
Written by Marston Bloom, Howard Overman, Nicole Taylor and Jack Williams, the series has been developed by Carnival’s Christopher Aird who is Executive Producing with Carnival’s Creative Director Sally Woodward Gentle.
Director of Drama Commissioning for ITV, Laura Mackie, comments: “Harley Street is both aspirational and thought-provoking. It will offer viewers, who traditionally enjoy this genre, a different approach to health care storytelling, whilst retaining the life and death situations which make medical drama so popular.”
Foreword by Marston Bloom
"In a previous life, before children, I was an actor, and the last theatre job I did was at the National, where one of the actresses twisted her ankle in rehearsal and went to Harley Street to have it looked at.
She came back and entertained everyone in the canteen about how she’d been seen by an incredibly handsome doctor – and it soon became a running joke round the building, with people pretending to drop down with injury and illness so they too could get to check him out. I was never that bothered in seeing the bloke but it must have put a thought in my head because when I came to write my first spec script (so that I could try and pull in a literary agent) this good-looking doctor was the character who charmed his way to the front page.
I had very limited experience of Harley Street, other than sharing what’s probably the common perception that the place is run by crusty tweed suits and bow ties but I did know that many doctors work both sides of the system (privately and for the NHS) and this crossover seemed interesting. And it seemed like good dramatic potential to throw someone like Robert – a handsome and hyperactive charisma king from a working class background - into this sedate old school mix.
The idea quickly evolved and then deepened and broadened into what it is today when I was lucky enough to have the script picked up by Christopher Aird at Carnival, and then commissioned by Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes at ITV. A trio who have my eternal loyalty for saving me at a time when I was genuinely one bounced cheque away from having to wear sensible clothes for a living.
We paired Robert in a private practice with Martha and Ekkow - themselves a couple of outsiders in this traditionally white, male world - and it seems to me that with this set-up and these three very different characters the programme has freedom to play out an almost limitless range and type of personal and medical story.
Through Robert and Ekkow’s ongoing NHS commitments we still get to plug into the great dramatic energy and impact of hospital-based emergencies that has worked so well on TV before but in Harley Street we also get to see a far more intimate, sometimes lifetime, doctor/patient relationship that extends far beyond the consulting room or A&E department.
We did meet several Harley Street doctors later in the day but my ambition has always been to approach this as an entertainment and not a documentary. I’d done no significant research for that first spec script which was more about Robert than it was about medicine and though there are intriguing insights to be had into the world of private practice along the way (which I hope will be a significant part of the programme’s appeal) from my side of the fence the interesting stuff in Harley Street is always what happens between people.
None of the characters in Harley Street are based on anyone in particular, though I suppose that in my acting days I would have auditioned for Felix rather than Robert. But I certainly couldn’t have done a better job than Oliver Dimsdale or any of the other great cast and crew who have employed such commitment, flair and integrity to bring the scripts to life.
That handsome doctor who saw the actress with her ankle may have set my mind running, but the making of a TV series is a highly collaborative process in which so many people play a significant part: and I reckon their work has produced a cracking programme.
And I really hope the audience agree!"
Thursdays, ITV1, 9:00pm from 17 July
Those of us going for the Red Planet Prize could watch this pilot critically, looking at what works and what might not work so well.
In addition to the things I suggested we looked at with Bonekickers, I think it's worthwhile thinking about the episode and series arcs with Harley Street.
How many stand-alone stories will there be? Does each of the main doctors have one and what are there relative importance? Does this change each week? Are there any serial stories - set to continue each week - set up in that first episode? What's the proportion of medical to personal stories?
16 July, 2008
JONATHAN NOLAN: I strongly feel that the version that I like the best is the ambiguity of it. Chris and I have had this argument on a couple of different films, but I’m always really interested in the idea with these characters that there’s an ambiguity there that’s functional. It’s purposeful."
Article in full
(via Behind the Scenes)
"I always tell the people on the website, at DelToroFilms, or the Hellboy website, I always say tell me what we did wrong, or what we did differently to what you wanted. And the only thing I would ask is that we worked hard, and didn’t deliver a movie that was half-baked, or that we didn’t think about, and it was artistically not an effort that lacked any endeavour, or physical or mental artistic investment. So if we did that, then I would love for my decisions to be respected. Even to be respected when someone says you have ruined my childhood! And so far the changes on the movies I’ve done, they have been voiced, even in the negative aspects, most of the time in a quite civilised way."
Article in full
15 July, 2008
"'Last week I had meetings with Jay Hunt, Jane Tranter, Laura Mackie, Sally Haynes and Jane Featherstone," says the veteran screenwriter, Tony Jordan (EastEnders, Hustle) with a wry laugh. "I suddenly realised I had been with some of the most powerful figures in television and they were all women. I think we're looking at some kind of conspiracy. Women are trying to take over the world, starting with television drama."
It may seem provocative to open a discussion of the role of women drama commissioners with a joke from a former market-stall trader whose writing portfolio includes some of the most memorably macho characters to appear on British screens, but the facts behind Jordan's theory are unarguable.
The commissioners of drama on all the main terrestrial networks – the people who decide what most of us will get to watch, in fact – are all women: Jane Tranter at the BBC enjoys the Orwellian title controller of fiction; Laura Mackie is ITV's head of drama; Liza Marshall, head of drama at Channel 4, works with Tessa Ross, their controller of film and drama.
To these we could add Mackie's deputy Sally Haynes, Kate Harwood, the BBC's head of series and serials, Elaine Pyke, Sky's head of drama and indie bosses such as Jane Featherstone of Kudos and Nicola Shindler of Red Productions.
Women occupy senior positions across the television industry, of course, but they seem to have made drama commissioning their special, if not exclusive territory and you don't have to suspect a global conspiracy to wonder how this has come about. Are women particularly drawn to this work? Are they better at it than men? If so, how and why? I wondered how the women themselves explain this phenomenon."
Article in full
"It’s tough, this business. As a writer you pour your heart into something and then you are forced to stand back and watch it change and change and morph and alter and dumb down and fade until there’s not much of you left. Then it comes out and some reviewer blames you, the writer, for everything, when in fact you haven’t been a part of the silly thing in three years."
Article in full
"Writing a successful pop culture movie is a task that is undertaken many times in the course of a year by people who are paid way too much money and don't actually produce anything worth looking at.
But why should they have all the fun? You, too, can take your own half-baked, microwave-warmed idea and turn it into boffo box-office."
Article in full
Part 2: Love interests
14 July, 2008
This is the first year I've watched Last Comic Standing (airing on Paramount). In previous years I've seen hacks reach the finals and I've been wondering how this happens. I'm still none the wiser as even the quota system doesn't quite explain all the choices. Allegedly, Drew Carey refused to host it because it was rigged.
Anyway, one hack who managed to get through, Esther Ku, eventually got voted out by almost all the other comedian contestants and could choose two other acts to go against her in the elimination round. She chose Iliza Shlesinger who was clearly better than her, if not by much, but had pissed her off by voting for her when she said she wouldn't and added unnecessary bitchy remarks when she thought Ku wouldn't hear them.
Ku also chose the heavenly God's Pottery. Iliza Does-Little, surprisingly, raised her game enough with a solid set and easily won the audience vote, sending God's Pottery home along with Ku. I think most of the comedians thought God's Pottery might actually win and remain on the show but it wasn't to be.
What was especially good about God's Pottery's stint was their hilarious improv as they remain in character off stage which really wound up the other comedians. Paul Foot made a comment about how he would love to see them in a sitcom but would rather not live with them.
I'm not sure it's worth watching the rest of the series now they've gone - they should have won. I'm also reluctant to watch because I'm convinced one of the remaining hacks is bound to win. But, I suppose, being annoyed at the results is part of the fun of reality shows.
God's Pottery - official site
Fan's Youtube channel
13 July, 2008
12 July, 2008
How will my great idea stay great? (I hope.)
by Gordy Hoffman
It’s always the same. The feeling I get when I think of something and see a movie idea. It’s a wonderful warm pull inside that probably is very similar to prospectors spotting gold in a stream. Sometimes, in an instant, upon momentary review, it collapses, measured against my own quick sense of whether I’m willing to live with it for the lifespan of a feature length screenplay. If I pass that filter, then I grab something and write it down, later transferring the new gem to my running list of jackpot movie ideas.
What stays with me from that list? Why are there ideas I save for years, never to be started? Usually I maintain a belief in their value, their promise, and more than likely they will stay on that list when I die. I have so many ideas now as it is. But I don’t run them off simply because I’m not compelled to start. I have no idea what leads to another, and now that I’ve written for almost two decades, I see old ideas finally coming to life in a beautiful new light in another idea altogether. Keep your ideas, the ones you have a fight for, and you’ll see why.
But what makes for the great idea that will light the way through all the drafts, production, editing and release to audience? For me, film ideas can never be only solid to my practical eye or rational brain. I see this in writers all the time, writing scripts over and over like term papers or Sudoku puzzles. They follow patterns, refine habits and crank many a page, deriving their satisfaction from completing drafts and successfully executing their outlines, beat sheets or treatments.
But is the heart involved? This is the difference between a great idea and a great idea that turns into a motion picture: falling in love. On more than one occasion, I have started off on something with great excitement, knowing I have a very commercial and/or original idea in my hands, and I get going. But there are questions, and the initial pieces of the writing might be boring or borrowed. I have started the marathon and I’m on mile seven.
What has to happen? For me, I have to find myself in the writing. I have to fall in love with my story. I have to share a common emotion with my characters. I become intimate with what I’m trying to say, and my story becomes honest.
My idea has become truly great. I have taken a personal ownership of my story, as it now has started to become a reflection of me.
Now this might sound very arty or independent, but this happens when I’m writing commercial specs of high concept. Why? Because it has to.
It has been said before that we are in the feelings business. So when I invest my own generously, I support and sustain an idea to fruition in a produced movie. Until this emotional ownership of a concept takes place, it might as well stay in a file on my hard drive, as a very interesting list.
The BlueCat Screenwriting Workshop: London
12-17 August 2008
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street, Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7HX
Gordy Hoffman, the award-winning writer/director (LOVE LIZA, A COAT OF SNOW) and founder of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, will travel to the UK this August to lead a week of screenwriting workshops at the University of London.
The creative principles of the workshops were borne out of over a decade of experience of judging the only major script competition in the world helmed by a produced screenwriter, a writer who continues to write today.
The BlueCat workshops help the writer develop the authentic, original voice behind every story that impacts the emotions of the audience, the essence of all commercially and artistically successful films.
If you care passionately about your script and story, this week will provide the tools to transform your commitment and concern into a compelling film.
The BlueCat Screenwriting Workshop
The screenplay is creative writing. It is imagination in action, the heart of every experience of the writer speaking truthfully and generously.
Writing creatively for the screen has no method, no formula, no rigid worksheets to comply with or enforceable rules hanging on a wall somewhere. Every conformity or formula determined and “discovered” by the screenwriting establishment can be blown apart by some of our most beloved movies.
But what cannot be argued away is that every classic movie we love has affected us emotionally.
This is always true.
There are principles of authentic storytelling. Yes. But these are not learned, but remembered from our own experiences of living our lives. The ability to tell a story lies inside every human being.
These questions, among others, will be examined at length at the workshop:
Writers will engage in writing and pitching exercises designed to flesh out new ideas or rework existing scripts. Please bring your laptops and/or paper and pen.
If each person is indeed unique, it follows simply that each writer is unlike any other, and can write a story no one else on Earth can. This purpose is the mission of this workshop.
09:00 - 17:00
The Ten Page Workshop
These workshops will consist of 5 writers each submitting ten pages of a work in progress in advance. We will go over each work individually, discussing the specific, unique challenges each writer is facing on the page.
This discussion will include the technical aspects of description and dialogue, the depth and reality of the characters, and how the ten pages reflect where the entire story goes.
The intimate, focused interaction with fellow writers in the workshop will provide all with a greater understanding of the work that lies ahead on their screenplay, and more importantly, a detailed sense of how they might develop as writers themselves.
18:30 – 23:00
" BlueCat workshops are all about honing your skills to write the story the exists in your imagination, and how to make that story engage the audience in real time. That begins with the first person to read your script and the first ten pages. Lead her into the world you've created, engage her, page by page and your story is one person closer to getting made.
Gordy helped me do this by pointing out the things I had missed and had gotten right, things an audience would need to know and feel before they could delve into the world. His enthusiastic, experienced and forthright assessment is just the kind of feedback I needed to hear. He captured everyone's attention by showing his commitment to making our work better.
The level of writing and feedback from other attendees is something that's so very important in a workshop experience. And at BlueCat, everyone was serious about the craft of writing and that's also what makes this workshop extremely productive.
At the day's end, my head was full of new ideas which brought about a renewed enthusiasm for the story. As if road blocks had been knocked aside, creating new pathways for my character's journey.
If only there were weekly or even biweekly BlueCat seminars here in NYC - that would be fantastic!
If BlueCat comes to your town, please, don't miss it."
Julie Gribble, NYC
Robert Hanks, The Independent
Lab Rats also seems ambivalent in its attitude to nerdishness. A comedy about scientists co-written by and starring Chris Addison, whose radio series, The Ape That Got Lucky, was remarkable for its combination of very silly jokes and rather well-researched evolutionary theory. The cast, including Geoffrey McGivern (the original Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker's Guide), is good. The plot of last night's episode was pleasantly absurdist, the jokes were commendably odd and wide-ranging. Subjects included chocolate, snails (on living in shells: "Imagine that: sitting in there all day, listening to the sound of the sea"), and a Russian scientist called Dr Kyrtistyges (pron. "Curtis Stigers"), who had a colleague called Dr Bylirasyris (pron. "Billy Rae Cyrus"). Somehow, though, it didn't quite gel, largely because of the studio audience, whose laughter, as so often, slowed things down and underlined jokes that needed to be thrown away. It may be, too, that the cast is a little too large, so that the stories lack a focus (compare the similar but funnier The IT Crowd, with only three regulars and a couple of frequent walk-ons). Worth giving it a week or two, though.
Lucy Mangan, The Guardian
Unlike, I am most awfully sorry to say, Lab Rats (BBC2), a new sitcom written by Carl Cooper and Chris Addison, and starring the latter as Dr Beenyman, one of a group of workers in a university research laboratory. Buried amid the kind of stuff that would barely have passed muster in the 70s (does Dr Beenyman's pink coat make him look gay? No - his hair does! How has daft Cara managed to get through life without a piano falling on her head? "I haven't!") are signs of both comedy and intelligence, but when all the jokes are spatchcocked into a wafer-thin plot that veers uncertainly between reality and surreality, this particular experiment can only be deemed a failure.
Tim Teeman, The Times
Lab Rats is a truly appalling new sit-com. The characters – geeks who work in a lab – are not even colourful enough to be stereotypes. Chris Addison, star and co-writer, is a man transformed (all for the bad) from his winning performance in The Thick of It as the wry chief geek. Bad puns, redundant characters, lame jokes (about twenty involving “gay hair”) – and yes it really did end with a huge, rampaging snail. Not even the best surgeon in the land could save this.
James Walton, Daily Telegraph
BBC2’s new series, Lab Rats seems to be further evidence that the sitcom tide is turning from the dark comedy of embarrassment to something lighter, dafter and more traditional.
Co-written by and starring Chris Addison (The Thick of It), it features an unlikely group of research scientists, led by a Nobel-Prize winner whose main interest appears to be chocolate. There’s also a Dean who’s foreign and therefore funny; a Brummie who spectacularly fulfils the conventional sitcom role of The Stupid One; and Addison himself whose job is to look around at his mad colleagues and be good-naturedly exasperated. And, as it turned out, yesterday’s plot was no more sternly realistic than the characterisation – what with the team having 24 hours to perfect human cloning, but only succeeding in creating a six-foot snail.
Given that Lab Rats scrupulously observes that other traditional sitcom convention whereby a bad joke is preferable to none at all, it’s not surprising that the show is distinctly patchy. Still, there were some pretty good running gags last night (many of them starring an amusing Russian) – and the whole thing also manages the useful trick of being extremely likeable. As a result, even when it’s at its lamest, you somehow can’t help wishing it well.********************
Chris Addison interview