Friday, February 23, 2007


With Paul Ashton on the Drama Q&A panel at the Television Scriptwriting Workshop, talk obviously veered toward the BBC writersroom.

Set up to read unsolicited material submitted to the BBC, the writersroom (according to the handout) “works across Drama, Entertainment, and CBBC to target and nurture new writing talent.” Which means they read the material sent their way, assess the potential talent of the writer, as well as the script’s suitability for any of the BBC strands.

Everyone can have a good idea. It’s having the ability to follow through with it that counts. Mr Ashton noted that typically there were no hard and fast rules to what they were looking for. Across the panel, the clear consensus was that the material had to have that indefinable extra spark to it.

With (according to the literature) up to 200 scripts arriving at writersroom every week, the readers tend to limit each submission to just the first ten pages. If they find themselves reading something that hooks them, they keep going, looking, at the next page marker to have a grasp of what the story is.

Working through the submissions, the readers then meet up in London on a regular basis and discuss the merits of the material amongst themselves. As well as finding new talent, Mr Ashton explained the writersroom is there to encourage new writers who aren’t quite there yet and provide feedback on their work.

“What is the story? Whose story is it?” is the most common note from the readers. If material arrives that ticks all the boxes, Mr Ashton asks the writer in for a chat and then sends the script on to the relevant department head. Whereupon Doctors, Casualty, Holby City or EastEnders beckons.

Giving it some more thought, putting untried writers on one of these shows is a good training ground. For an entry-level writer, getting their foot on the first rung of the ladder, it’s probably a pretty good gig. Just as Laurence Marks mentioned how some of the new writers taken on by Alomo Productions could do the funnies but didn’t have it in them to create their own comedies, some new-found drama writers may be able to come up with dialogue and situations, but can’t come up with the whole package.

My problem with the quartet of ongoing shows is that they’re the foundation of BBC drama. A good portion of the annual drama budget is being shovelled into their gaping maws and they’re just so freaking dull and worthy. Still, if you’re on the outside and you want to get in, the writersroom is the door.

The simple truth, as one of the panel noted, is that the demand for talent is huge.


At 6:32 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Yeah, so the mofos BETTER BE all over the script they SOLICITED from me or I'll blow a freakin' hole in their goddamn ass yankee style.

I actually like Eastenders and Holby, tho not Doctors.

Do you think you could find them dull 'cos you're not in the demographic they're aimed at, per chance?

At 7:10 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Absolutely, I'm not in their demographic when it comes to Casualty, Holby City and the like.

The problem probably is that, as Tony Marchant mentioned when he talked about the UK channels' brand identities, BBC1 has no brand identity because it wants to appeal to everyone.

The thing is, after watching over twelve years of ER, the UK hospital dramas seem like they're stumbling around in treacle.

Forget birth, life and death in the hospitals, it's boredom, boredom and death by comparison.

Of course I'll probably change my tune in a couple of years when I've drinking my mug of Ovaltine and gumming on a Ginger Nut.

At 11:52 am, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

I watched Eastenders, Casualty and Holby and loved them but I stopped watching them one by one. I might have changed but I think the quality did.

I do dip into them now and again to see what they're like but I still don't like them. But whenever I dip into Corrie and Emmerdale it's always quality.


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