Writing for Broadcast Media

by Chris Owen

I was reading in the Shropshire Star (issue: 5th Sept) of all places, a piece written by David Banner of their news desk with the shock headline: ‘Monty Python wouldn’t get aired today’

The world-famous entrepreneur and auteur 80-year-old John Cleese, a man of not inconsiderable experience of writing, producing and acting in TV all around the globe, was being interviewed about writing for TV. He was espousing about original broadcast comedy writing in general and said that: ‘those Executives currently in charge, (even in 2020) basically did not have a clue.’ He was of the opinion that they should hand over creative control to artists (i.e. writers) instead of making bad decisions based on what ‘marketing people’ said viewers wanted to see aired on radio or TV.

When asked if he thought his classic Monty Python Show would be commissioned today he replied:

‘No, I don’t think it would.’

He obviously felt he needed to set the record straight and continued in the same vein:

‘The problem with television and television executives has always been that they think they know what they are doing and they won’t trust people, so they try to control the shows despite the fact that they can’t actually write – or act themselves.’

The piece continues with an extended rant about executives, which beggars the question about probable run-ins he has personally had with TV production staff over the years and reads as though it was a complaint letter written in the 1950s when despotic ex-army types ran the BBC for instance, setting themselves up as the arbiters of taste on behalf of the British public.

These were the producers of endlessly repeated fomulaic radio comedy that never understood the surrealist humour of the Goon Show which first aired in the 1950’s and couldn’t wait for it to fold in the early 60’s when the show’s stars : Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, particularly, became internationally famous.

A glimpse at the current schedules across the channels reveals the same traits that have led to a dearth of good comedy writing talent.

I see no serried ranks of comedy genius coming through equal to the likes of:

Barry Cryer, Spike Milligan, Galton & Simpson, Eric Chappell, Eric Sykes, Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, Johnny Speight, – the list goes on.

My point being that most of these above writers were nurtured by the once mighty BBC which has now made a fortress out of their artistic Ivory Towers by only offering potential new contributors tiny submission windows measured in mere days twice a year during which to approach them direct with new material targeted at any genre. Instead of becoming the nursery of new talent they have become the dinosaurs of narrow-minded elitism

Merry Xmas to all our readers – and keep writing!