TV 2013: The returning

Utopia-Channel4TA114TA115TA97TA108TA104grab2BroadchurchTA116Ripper_Street_titlcard

I doubt I’ve ever watched as much TV as I did in 2013. Self-evidently, it’s because I’ve been reviewing TV throughout the year, again, thanks to the Guardian’s continued patronage of Telly Addict, which has now reached its 134th edition. There’s a special review of the year up now, although, in the heat of trying to put together a definitive list, I forgot to mention The Returned, which is something of an omission. I’ll provide a Top 10 here, as it’s easy enough to siphon out the highest echelon from another quality-packed year. But after that, they’re in no order. All entries here are, in my fallible opinion, what the piece of furniture in the corner was made for.

1. Utopia, C4*
2. Breaking Bad, Netflix
3. Ripper Street, BBC1
4. The Returned, C4
5. Louie, Fox
6. Parks & Recreation, BBC4
7. Gogglebox, C4
8. Fresh Meat, C4
9. Game Of Thrones, Sky Atlantic
10. Broadchurch, ITV

Friday Night Lights, Sky Atlantic
The Walking Dead, Fox
Sound Of Cinema, BBC4
The Fall, BBC2
Love/Hate, C5
Y Gwyll, S4C

The Job Lot, ITV
In The Flesh, BBC3
The Village, BBC1
Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic
Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, Comedy Central
The Wrong Mans, BBC2
Bates Motel, Universal
Hannibal, Sky Living
The Newsroom, Sky Atlantic
Boss, More4
The Good Wife, More4
Nashville, More4
Fried Chicken Shop, C4
The Route Masters, BBC2
David Bowie: Five Years, BBC2
Family Tree, BBC2
The Great British Bake Off, BBC2
Southcliffe, C4
Dates, C4
Mad Men, Sky Atlantic
It’s Kevin, BBC2
London Irish, C4
Oliver Stone’s Untold History Of The United States, Sky Atlantic
The United States Of Television, BBC2
Suits, Dave
Veep, Sky Atlantic

I feel certain I’ll have missed essential titles off this already fairly swollen list, so let me know if I have.

*Having named Utopia as my TV show of the year, it would be rude of me not to provide a link to it at the Channel 4 Store website, as Channel 4 DVD were kind enough to send me a copy just before Christmas when I merely asked them, via Twitter, where I might buy a physical copy at short notice (having failed to find one in my local HMV). For that, they deserve a link. It was re-watching the whole thing between Christmas and New Year that just edged it past Ripper Street in my final list. It was close run.

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Ripping

TA127Wanna see something really scary? You kind of will, and you kind of won’t in my Halloween week Telly Addict, as I’ve been careful not to put in scenes of too much violence and horror that some viewers may find upsetting, from the start. There will be blood, though, with the choleric return of Ripper Street to BBC1, the nightmarish return of American Horror Story to Sky Atlantic, the imminent conclusion of Bates Motel on Universal, and the blood-sucking debut of NBC’s Dracula on Sky Living (if you can call it living etc.); also, a celebration of screwball dialogue on Veep on Sky Atlantic and some frankly terrifying lady-in-peril thriller cliches on The Escape Artist on BBC1. Don’t submerge your head in that bath!

Speak to my agent

TA123Once again, apologies for blogging so infrequently of late: I am doing four jobs at once and working right into the weekends. Telly Addict endures. This week, the return of Homeland to C4; the arrival of The Blacklist to Sky Living; the return of Citizen Khan to BBC1; the continuation of The Great British Bake Off on BBC2 (with mysterious invader); the return of Louie to Fox; the return of True Blood, also to Fox; and the finale of The Story Of The Jews on BBC2. Bear with me.

Gates open

People often ask me what it takes to write for TV. I’ll tell you: patience. Actually, patience and perseverance. It was in December 2009 that I was first approached by the exec producer of what would eventually become Gates, a sitcom put into development by Sky. (The series was actually commissioned, if I remember rightly, in April 2011.) Although the kernel of an idea was in place at that stage – a comedy about the comings and goings at the school gates, with particular emphasis on the parents, rather than the kids – the nuts and bolts were yet to be assembled. The producer, Laurence, gathered half a dozen writers from various quarters of the TV firmament and sat them around his kitchen table in February 2010. It’s OK to name us all now, as the show is finally ready to air, next month, on Sky Living – me, Abi Wilson (Jam & Jerusalem), Richard Preddy (Green Wing), Dan Sefton (Holby City) and stand-up Ava Vidal, with Jennifer Saunders at all of the development meetings and acting as script editor on the pilot. Perhaps you’d like to see the very first one-minute trailer? If so, it’s here.

At those early kitchen-table meetings, we grew the entire cast of characters from scratch and created a number of storylines for them. These were then honed into episodes. With the first script written, using a complicated system of farming out various scenes/characters to various writers having all pitched in on the structure in group sessions, we cast for a read-through and the first episode was performed to the bigwigs from Sky. Although very few of the actors survived from that first temporary casting, we were able to forge on with a full series of six once we had the green light, and the final cast were assembled in time for a summer shoot, on location in North London.

Among those cast were Tom Ellis, Joanna Page, Sue Johnston, Will Andrews (seen, incidentally, on Mid Morning Matters on Sky last week on an exercise bike), Nick Mohammed, Catherine Shepherd (seen only the other night on the final Twenty Twelve), Tony Gardner, Ella Kenyon and Adam Deacon. Casting is an inexact science, buffeted by availability and timing, but the cards did seem to fall very well for Gates. I would say that. But there you go.

The cast and crew attended a screening of the first couple of episodes at the end of last year, and then the waiting game began. We learned, to our initial chagrin, that Gates was being held back until the autumn and this felt like an eternity away at the time. But the wait is over. Sky Living is a more “female-friendly” version of Sky One, if I may roll out the virtual flipchart for a moment. As such, I can see why Gates has been chosen to premiere there, as it has a strong female voice, with a female producer (Izzy), female writers and a female script editor for the first episode. (It was commissioned by a female, too!) I’m happy to have played a male part in it. It was like a family. No, really. A family under siege, obviously.

I’m really looking forward to Gates entering the public domain. We all put a lot of work into it, and to have been involved at the ground floor gives an enormous sense of satisfaction. Equally, it’s good for the ego to have worked in a team. No single episode belongs to a single writer – we all worked on all of them, to varying degrees. A lot of what I did was essentially editing, but that’s fine by me. It couldn’t be more different from working solo on Mr Blue Sky. It’s far easier to skulk individually away from a collaborative effort if people don’t like it, or it fails. I don’t anticipate this happening with Gates. As soon as I have the exact TX date, I’ll Tweet the arse out of it.

This is the blog entry I wrote during the shoot last summer, when we all believed that Gates would air in the New Year. There are some nice, esoteric location pics, and a bit more detail about the production, should you be on a course, or something. (I didn’t realised I’d used the same punning title.)

This just in: Episode 1 airs at 8.30 on Tuesday August 14.