Original Pitches

The creators of three hit TV series remember where it all began

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Ricky Gervais on The Office (2001)

"I'd always wanted to write a sitcom but never thought I'd get round to it. I spent most of my early adult life mucking around, people-watching and trying to be a pop star. Throughout the Nineties, I added working in an office as a middle manager and watching loads of docusoaps on TV to my repertoire. Who'd have thought all of this would one day really pay off?

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"It wasn't a traditional journey or plan of action. In fact, if I'd written a script and just sent it off, I imagine it would either have been returned to me with a polite rejection letter or still be in a commissioner's drawer. "INT. Brent makes a bad joke that no one laughs at. Silence. He touches his tie and looks at the camera..." It doesn't jump off the page, right?

"The naturalism was of paramount importance because it was a fake documentary, so the acting style had to reflect real life, which meant a lot of non-verbal communication. Basically, you had to actually see what I meant. Luckily, my old company let me return to the office where I had worked for 10 years – taking notes on the minutiae of human behaviour and social faux pas – to shoot a demo of my new character. I sort of ad libbed around the character a bit, with realism being the key focus. I even used friends and old colleges who were still working there as extras. It gave it such a lovely, understated mood.

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"Armed with my actual 10 minute pilot the BBC were able to see what they were potentially getting. There was very little pitching. They simply asked, “Do you think it could be a series?” To which I said, “Yes. But I have to play the main part and write and direct it.” Coming from a fat 36-year-old who had never acted, written or directed before, they were incredibly trusting. “OK” they said. I think they took a punt and the project was relatively low risk. It only cost £140,000 per episode and gently released on a summer night at 9.30pm on BBC Two, 9 July 2001.

"I think my confidence came not from the fact that I knew I could make a program that everyone would like but rather from the fact that I knew I could make a program that I would like. To do that, all I needed was complete control. Easy. As I remember, the commissioning editor only had one query during the meeting.  He said, “If Brent is this much of an incompetent idiot, how does he not get fired?” I replied, “Let’s take a little walk round the BBC shall we?” Luckily he laughed and said, “Fair point. OK, let’s make a sitcom.” I then remember saying something like, “And I don’t want any interference. We either do it my way or I’ll just walk away”. Haha. Who the fuck did I think I was? Maybe they were impressed by such integrity. Yes. That must have been it.

"What they never knew was that Channel 4 had seen my little demo and had said “if the BBC don’t want it we’ll take it in a flash”. This is why I could be such a cocky little nobody."


Amy Jenkins on This Life (1995)

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"BBC Two was looking for a show to attract younger viewers. They had the idea that the young people should be lawyers, and I had just left the law and was writing scripts (mostly about raving). I said I’d do it as long as it wasn’t really about lawyers and that we never went into a courtroom.

"I was preoccupied with the idea that the Sixties generation were never going to move on, get old and let us have their jobs. Veteran producer Tony Garnett later said he hired me because I said I hated The Beatles. He was genuinely shocked. He invited me to come up with some characters, which I did on the number 19 bus on the way home from meeting him. I just plucked out five of my friends. They paid me to write a "bible", a full idea of the show's world.

"Egg, played by The Waking Dead's Andrew Lincoln, was your typical “new man”. Nick Hornby had just written Fever Pitch and there was a zeitgeisty idea around about men who loved football but also had feelings. It was more about class: Euro ’96 had been a big thing and the middle classes were finally getting into football. Men were starting to cook more, (enter Jamie Oliver). To this day, the This Life cast complain about being unable to shake off the show. Andrew Lincoln couldn't get into a London cab without the driver saying something about Egg.

"We stole the jerky camera work from Hill Street Blues. And the nudity and sex came from the desire to show it like it is. There was even a scene where Miles was meant to be having a wank in the bath, but [the actor] Jack Davenport – charming, amenable and up for a laugh as he was – drew the line at that. I can’t say I blame him."



Chris Chibnall on Broadchurch (2013)
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This is the very first thing I put down on paper it's a sales document, really. Although I wasn't selling to anyone at that stage, I was testing the idea out on paper, seeing whether it might work.

"I was aiming at 13 episodes. I thought it might be for Sky Atlantic. After I wrote the first script on spec (ie, for myself), I thought I'd try ITV first. I asked them for 10 episodes, they eventually ordered eight, which was still a big risk for them on an unknown serial.
What strikes me now as unusual is how close the finished show is to the original idea: the landscape, the characters, and the influence of Thomas Hardy, even. It feels like we delivered what I was hoping for. That's really rare. And credit to the amazing team who came together on it.

"This is the image we put on the front cover: a picture taken by director James Strong as we walked and talked about the show, before I'd even taken it to ITV. We'd worked together on United (the 2011 film of the Man Utd Munich air crash) and wanted to find something else to do together. So I took James on a tour of the landscape and told him what I was thinking. A version of that photo (barbed wire and beautiful landscape) ended up in episode one. 

"I also put together a “moving mood board”, basically an iTunes slideshow of key photos I took while out walking. I put them to the soundtrack of "Hand Covers Bruise", the first track on The Social Network soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  The sense of melody, and the slowly growing unease was the perfect tone for the show.

"A couple of photographs from the mood board: footprints in the sand, invoking an absent presence in the landscape; and the beauty and mechanical construction at the caravan park, where we'd later film the scenes featuring Pauline Quirke as Susan. 

"On our first whiteboard list of characters from 25 May 2011, some would change, some would disappear, but many would remain. I took a photo of it and on it you can see a name scribbled next to the role of DS: Olivia [Colman, Broadchurch star]. I promptly erased the whiteboard and forgot about it. But I think she somehow infused herself into the character and I was subconsciously writing for her all along. Thank God she said yes."

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