Planning your sitcom

Cilla Black, UK television host and pop singer, apparently has never been on a bus, cannot drive and has never done anything mundane since she was 19. But she can open a bottle of champagne…

This was her life, according to writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who were testing their latest script for a pilot TV sitcom and in which the main character, Tania, a TV celebrity, was written for Cilla.

We were in a feedback session of the Player Playwrights, a writing/acting group based in central London. (In Laurence Olivier’s old dressing room at the Phoenix theatre, to be precise.)

At a play readthrough in Laurence Olivier’s old dressing room. Oh darlings! It was marvellous

Some of the audience were having trouble with the TV show within a TV show format of the pilot sitcom and thought the idea of the characters being from Liverpool “stereotyped”.

But the idea fell into place once the writers revealed they had written the main character, Tania, a TV celebrity, for Cilla and Tania’s brother, Arthur, for Paul O’ Grady.

What I found fascinating is that Bafta-winning Marks and Gran, who have created among others Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and Shine on Harvey Moon, seemed to not have planned out all six episodes.

The pilot was about “seeing all the opportunities down the road”, they said. Other characters, such as the Tania’s sister, were “in the bank” if the writers “needed her”.

That was quite comforting to find out that even seasoned hands did not plan out their plots. Just see where the writing takes you.

Do you plan your writing in advance? Or do you just write and see where it takes you? Do you even think of adding characters, so they are “in the bank” if needed?

PS I will be taking a short break – or is that intermission? – back soon!

October 4, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Comedy writing, Fiction, Humour, Publishing, Theatre.


  1. mskatykins replied:

    I should spend more time planning my writing. The trouble is that when I get all excited and inspired I just want to chase that, you know? 🙂

    This sounds really interesting, although I find it hard to believe that ‘arr Cilla’ was never on a bus – or was that since the age of 19? 😉
    I used to love ‘Birds of a Feather’. Enjoy your break, WBD! 🙂

  2. jmmcdowell replied:

    Once an idea hits, I tend to just run with it, wherever the Muse leads. But I keep good notes on characters, places, and backstory as they come to me.

    Enjoy your break!

  3. valeriedavies replied:

    The reading looks fascinating in that setting… Find it hard to believe Cilla’s never been on a bus – did she walk to school, never go out with girl friends? WE just didn’t all have cars back then!!!!

    • WomanBitesDog replied:

      They must have meant she hasn’t used a bus since she was 19 – but I’m not sure!

  4. kateshrewsday replied:

    I wake up every day and think: what shall I write?

    It’s exhilarating but I make no money out of it whatsoever.

    Cilla Black never been on a bus? Seriously? However did she get home from her job as a hat-check at the Cavern Club?

    • WomanBitesDog replied:

      I think that perhaps they meant she had never been on a bus since the age of 19 – but it’s not clear!

  5. Pauline Guerin replied:

    lol, there is such a thing as walking, or even cycling; perhaps she had a mod scooter! I do plan my writing so I can keep track of the plot, but I have ideas which come to me and then need to be written. I wouldn’t say I have characters on the back burner exactly, but I do introduce people if I need to.

    I think you need a plan of sorts in order to follow the story through, maybe sitcom is different who knows?

    Have a good break.

  6. Chris Edgar replied:

    I’m fortunate enough to be working on an episodic web-based series, so I can constantly tinker with future episodes based on new ideas that come up and the feedback that I get (or will get, once the first episode comes out shortly). I think this setup offers me a lot of freedom and flexibility.

    • WomanBitesDog replied:

      Reader feedback – so useful. I certainly changed things in the play after its first run in Camden – after audience reaction!

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