Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Sitcom Trials thoughts 011

Sitcom Trials update & thoughts Feb 2011

As you'll have seen, the Sitcom Trials took 2010 off, after the success of the 2009 10th Anniversary season. In the meantime the Sitcom Mission has gone from strength to strength, which is very good news.

There is a likelihood the Sitcom Trials may make a return in 2011, and there are two reasons. The first is that there are parties to whom I'm talking who are interested in producing the show (the part of the process which I have neither the time nor the inclination to take on myself).

The second reason for reviving the Sitcom Trials is that I feel there remains a need for it in the comedy market. Writers want it, comedians and actors want it, the broadcasting business needs it, and - though there is good cause for placing them fourth in the list - the public want it.

(The good cause for putting "the public want it" at the foot of the list being that, in my experience, the public quite often don't want it. Don't get me wrong, the Sitcom Trials and Sitcom Mission have delivered very big audiences on a regular basis, especially at the Edinburgh Fringe and in both shows' recent London runs, but the show is often a hard sell because, unlike a recognisable comedian or act, it is an uphill struggle to build brand loyalty and make the public familiar with the concept. Also the showcase nature of the Trials and Mission shows can result in content which is, to put it kindly, variable. Hence the Trials' catchphrase "you're never more than 10 minutes away from something you might prefer".)

The Sitcom Mission, especially with its new £5000 cash prize incentive and ever-growing industry connections, is offering the writers and actors a great opportunity, and will be delivering what's wanted by the industry and the audience. But it is looking at their show that I realise why the Trials is also needed.

Firstly competition can only be a good thing. Not just within the show, but between the two shows. Everyone wants to be the most popular, the most successful and the most respected, it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Then there is the greater chance for involvement. The Sitcom Mission gets an awful lot of scripts and can only draw up a shortlist of 32. They may then be showcasing on stage as few as eight of those scripts. And it was the live performance of sitcoms that was the starting point for the Trials back in 1999. In our last season, 2009, we performed 20 brand new scripts at the rate of 5 a night.

Click above to play video of the Sitcom Trials final.

Then there are the differences between the shows' formats, either of which will find favour with different contributors:

- SCRIPTS. The Sitcom Mission asks for complete 15 minute scripts, and asks for 3 different episodes from the finalist writers, whereas The Sitcom Trials asks for a 10 minute script ending in a cliffhnager moment, then a 3 minute payoff scene which the audience are shown only if it wins their vote.

- VOTING. The Sitcom Mission is voted on entirely by an industry panel, not a public vote, whereas the Sitcom Trials historically relied entirely on the audience's vote (in the stage show 99-06 and the TV series), moving to a mixture of audience vote and judging panel from the 07-09 stage shows. The public, though, have always had a vote in the live Sitcom Trials show.

- PERFORMANCE. The Sitcom Trials has always welcomed writer-performers. Dating from our earliest hits with Miranda Hart's sitcom in the 2000-02 London, Edinburgh and touring show, through to December 09's winners Steve MacNeil & Sam Pampilon, we have long found that comedy actors who can write and perform their own scripts can take leaps and bounds over scripts that then have to be cast and interpreted, although the latter often work marvellously. (TV seems to take a similar opinion, if sitcoms like Not Going Out, Spaced, The Office, 30 Rock, Phoenix Nights, Bottom, I'm Alan Partidge, League of Gentlemen, Gary Tank Commander or indeed Miranda are anything to go by). Whereas The Sitcom Mission invites scripts only, not writer-performers.

- OTHER DETAILS. I have a fondness for The Pitch Fest, another bit of audience participation in which the audience come up with ideas for sitcoms which are read out during the show, the funniest winning a prize at the end. And inevitably there will be differences in promotion and presentation between the Trials and the Mission that will please different audiences.

So I have high hopes that the Sitcom Trials will be returning for a 2011 season, stay tuned for more news when I have it.

Kev F Sutherland
The Sitcom Trials

PS: There are 20 opportunities and competitions for budding writers, all of whose deadlines are coming up. Don't say you weren't warned.

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