Cherish The Gems

“How the fuck did this get on the telly?” You’ve said it haven’t you? Eh? Shouted it probably. I have. Many times. Today. Many times today.

Well here’s why it’s ended up shitter than anyone really wanted. Of course, there’s the chance that it was always a shit idea, shittily written, directed by a shit, featuring shits. But let’s say it wasn’t…

Here’s how many people are involved in making a telly show. There’s often more. Now, what are the chances that every single one of these people is perfect? That they do their job to the absolute best it can be done, without a hitch, or a mistake, during the entire process?

Let’s pick one at random. The Script Supervisor. No special reason other than all the Script Supervisors I know are perfect. Plus I reckon I could take them all in a fight. So I’ll risk their wrath and use them as an example.

Here’s how they can make your show shitter.

Oh no! The Script Supervisor has miscalculated their script timings. Before you go out filming it is their job to break down the scenes of the script, assigning each a guesstimate of screen time. Hopefully there’ll be a readthrough or two giving the Script Supervisor an even better idea of the duration of the material. This is then used as a benchmark during filming, ensuring that you shoot enough to fill each show, while not trying to shoot too much. But here they’ve not assigned enough time for silly comedy business, or they thought the dialogue would be delivered a lot quicker, or they didn’t leave time for laughs. Whatever.

They have underestimated the script by 2 or 3 minutes. During filming you might get an inkling that this is the case as you struggle to film everything in the schedule. So you rush a bit. You cut a corner or two. The schedule might start to change. You lose favourite locations. Or that nice crane shot. It becomes a bit of a scramble.

Your show gets a little shitter.

Of course, the only time you know for definite that they have fcked up is when you edit all the scenes together. Then you realise you have a sitcom that is 32 minutes long for a BBC slot of 29 minutes. What do you do then?

You have to cut stuff.

Say our two protagonists have snuck in to an old girlfriend’s bedroom to retrieve a wallet that one left there the night before. They really need it back. After a bit of searching…

It must have fallen down the back of this…Quick, pull her drawers off.
I bet we’re not the first guys to say that in this room.
If I give this a yank can you get your arm right in?
Hopefully we’re the first to say that though.
Come on.
I’ve got it.
Right let’s go

Now, as shit as that dialogue is, what would you cut from the scene to help get the programme duration down to 29 minutes? You can’t cut finding the wallet because then the later, hilarious wallet-based scenes won’t make any sense.

So you MUST CUT THE (admittedly shit) JOKES!!

Leaving you with…

It must have fallen down the back of this…
I’ve got it.
Right let’s go

Because the Script Supervisor has fcked up their timing just a little, you will have a program with lots of story and fewer funnies.

Shitter, if you will.

But it’s worse…

They’ve gone and got a bit of continuity wrong. Yes, their job is also to watch the continuity on set, from which hand the policeman used to punch the granny to ensuring two parts of a scene match, even if they are shot three weeks apart. But today, well, maybe they had a hangover or they were still writing their notes from the last scene, but they’ve missed a tiny thing. Like an actor sitting down at different times during a scene. It means you can’t edit it properly. You have to use shots you don’t like. It feels wrong. Again your choice is to leave a wrong thing in or cut it out, including the joke that was being delivered at the time.

Your show is a little shitter.

And it gets worse.

It was raining, at night, and everyone should have been finished half an hour ago. The Script Supervisor marked the shots improperly on their notes. These are the notes that are sent with all your lovely footage to the editor, a record of what the Director was thinking during the shoot. But because they wrote the wrong thing in the wrong column, you end up with the editor using the wrong takes, the less funny takes. As Director you might not question it in the edit 6 weeks later, shrugging with a “I thought that was funnier when we shot it”.

But your show is shitter.

And it gets worse.

In the scene with the kissing goldfish, everyone was enjoying the funny funny performances so much, they weren’t watching the script closely and the cast jumped a few lines. A few brilliant lines lost in a long scene. They’ve gone forever. The show is shitter. Then the actors changed their lines ever so slightly between takes so that now, in the edit, the conversation no longer makes sense and you have to lose a chunk of otherwise hilarious hilarity.


There are a bunch of other administrative things that the Script Supervisor does, but that’ll do for now. One error in their guesstimate timing at the start and three or four one-off mistakes during 6, maybe 8 weeks of filming, working over 60 hours a week. It’s not a disaster. It’s understandable. No one is perfect.

But the show is shitter.

And the audience won’t know any of this. Or care. They won’t know how the final show could have been better.

But this is just one person on the team. There’s so many people working on a show, with the ability to slip up in tiny, tiny ways. I mean, imagine how much damage a crap Director could do. Eh? A crap director? Eh? Imagine that.

This is why it’s kind of a fluke that any telly shows turn out to be good at all.

Not really.

But kind of.

So cherish the gems. Really really cherish the gems!

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2 Responses to Cherish The Gems

  1. weavehole says:

    As one of those annoying comedy-rainman types who (presumably because I’ve watched every ep of every comedy prog from the early eighties onwards*) often preempt gags and L out loud before the ‘punchline’ has actually been broadcast: this explains a lot of confusing follow-up silences and quasi-guilt.

    I was being haunted by the ghosts of aborted-foetus jokes.
    Wooo00OOO0ooo0O etc

    *including the repeats of Home To Roost and Duty Free

  2. QuietCanary says:

    Seems like a natural descent into chaos. What you need to do is account for this beforehand by adding 50% more of everything that isn’t shit. If you see what I mean? Jam it in there.

    AS THE BOYS APPROACH THE DRESSING TABLE FRANK HAS HIS EYES CLOSED, SNIFFING. What you doing? I only know this place in the dark.
    FUNNY FRANK: It must have fallen down the back of this … ( Shifting Rabbit out of the way, turns on)
    THE BOYS THOROUGHLY SEARCH THE DRESSING TABLE, PULLING IT APART ( Frank Eyes still shut sniffing everything, bonked on head with falling rabbit)
    HILARIOUS HARRY: I’ve got it. (pants rip)
    FUNNY FRANK: Right let’s go (Rabbit in pocket, smiling, humming)

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