Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My TV series

During the mid-90s in the UK, there was an explosion of 'lad mags', the burgeoning of a media genre devoted to a lowest-common-denominator appeal to a young male audience: lots of features on cars, sports, and drinking, allied with photo spreads of attractive young women wearing lingerie. A few older established titles like GQ tried to lend this formula a veneer of class, but then there were a number of new startups like Loaded that were frankly proletarian in their approach.

And I thought to myself, if I were going to produce a magazine of this sort, something even trashier than those we already have, something unashamedly aimed at the very bottom end of the market, what could I call it? And I decided upon... Bloke.

This fleeting moment of fancy in a pub conversation lodged in my brain, and soon gave birth to an elaborate story scenario that I envisaged as being a sitcom - a rather more cerebral and surreal sitcom than the standard fare, the sort of thing you might encounter on one of our minority audience channels.

Essentially, it was to be an office comedy, but one that would often break outside the confines of the workplace, and one that would afford rather more diverse and bizarre subject matter than usual because of the nature of the work being undertaken in this particular office - putting out the lad mag to end all lad mags, Bloke (which was also, of course, to be the title of the series).

I had a number of ideas for running gags which would provide an overarching story for the show. The key one concerned the relationship between the two main characters. The magazine's editor was a playboy, someone who tried too hard to embody the fantasy ideal of the targeted readership of young single males, and who exploited his modest celebrity to indulge in a wild party lifestyle - often to the detriment of fulfilling his daily editorial duties. His idealistic assistant, fresh out of university, frequently finds himself having to rescue his delinquent boss from embarrassing 'morning after' situations... and gradually taking on more and more of his work, until he is ghostwriting much of the magazine.

I was also interested in how a woman would be able to tolerate involvement in such an exuberantly sexist enterprise, so I envisaged that the magazine's best writer would be a clever and attractive woman who was coolly disdainful - not to say ashamed - of her work, only doing it short-term to advance her career... and ever ready with a sharp put-down to discourage the immature oafishness of her male colleagues. (Also frequently causing surprise/embarrassment to interview subjects who assumed she was going to be a man. I gave her the first name 'Leslie' to enhance the opportunities for such confusion.)

Another key recurring gag - perhaps cropping up just once in the middle of each episode - would involve one of the magazine's defining characteristics, a monthly 'fun' feature involving two ordinary blokes (perpetual bachelors who lived together, enjoying a very self-indulgent and slovenly - laddish - lifestyle) setting themselves some ridiculous challenge or other. I think I had quite a few ideas for what these features might be, but I seem to have forgotten them all now. In any case, the structure of the joke was supposed to be them pitching their latest ideas to the editor, and him invariably choosing the most outlandish one (with perhaps some follow-up jokes later in the episode about how the stunt had gone horribly wrong). I imagined that perhaps we would never see these two guys properly, that there would just be a recurring scene of them bantering with their editor across his desk, but always viewed from behind, the camera looking towards the editor. And I was going to call them Bob and Terry - a homage which Brits of a certain age would appreciate.

However, the story strand that snowballed to the point where it was in danger of dominating too much concerned the magazine's IT guy - stereotypically nerdy, but also with a dark and mysterious side. He would often make cryptic remarks about the huge amounts of money he was making from unspecified side projects, and about the difficulties these projects were sometimes landing him in, but his colleagues tended to dismiss him as just a fabulist - making things up to try to make himself seem more interesting, more attractive to women. For instance, one unlikely claim he made was that he had become friendly with an IT-savvy rock star through some very highbrow and exclusive online forum and had been invited to housesit his apartment for him. The rest of the office scoffs at this as a delusional tall tale, utterly impossible; but they later discover that he is indeed living in a multi-million pound luxury apartment in London's newly trendy Docklands area. (I had Peter Gabriel or David Bowie in mind as this unlikely benefactor, and was hoping that they might agree to make a surprise guest appearance in the final episode.) However, his hacking activities have somehow riled the Russian mafia, putting his life in jeopardy. (I considered having Gabriel/Bowie intercede to save him; I liked the idea of a musician being somehow able to out-intimidate a Russian gangster!)

I was so taken with this plot element that I considered turning it into a separate script, or perhaps transforming the TV show concept into a feature film (although the Russian gangster sub-plot made for a good series-ending cliffhanger to try to hook audiences to create demand for a further series). If I were going to revive this now, I think it would work better as a comedy thriller film script. I've probably missed the moment for a satire of the UK magazine industry. I've always fancied the idea of writing for television, though. But damn, it's hard work - I struggle to come up with more than one or two jokes a day... and you probably need 40 or 50 for a half-hour sitcom.

As with the play idea I recounted earlier, I think I was approaching this more as a challenging technical exercise than as something I seriously expected to finish or to be able to sell. I never got beyond some outline sketches and a few isolated scenes and gags. I was rather fond of it, though.

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