BROADCHURCH – crime drama at its best

Hi there,

BROADCHURCH –  new 8x 60’ ITV series. Mondays 9pm

What I liked so much about BROADCHURCH episode one was that it was very conventional subject-matter – a story we’ve seen many times before – but at the same time absolutely gripping. It reminded me that good drama doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel – it just has to do what it does simply and well. In fact Broadchurch was deceptively simple. The joy of the dialogue was that you barely noticed it – but I can bet a huge amount of work and very many drafts went into making it feel that effortless.

In some ways there was barely a scene that didn’t remind you of a scene you’d watched in another TV crime drama – but the scenes in Broadchurch were just better. The story-telling was economical but telling. For instance, the hooks for the next episode were set up in a series of visual scenes – the London news reporter slipping the dead boy’s teddy bear into her handbag; the 11 year old friend of the victim wiping all messages from his dead friend from his mobile phone and computer; and the haunting CCTV shot of the boy rolling down the night-time street on his skateboard.

It was so nice to see a police show where the police were emotionally engaged with the crime – kind of obvious but so few crime shows achieve this.

The writing was supported so well by the direction, the performances and the editing. The opening juxtaposed shots so intriguingly; and Olivia Coleman can do no wrong in my eyes – she is so engaging, and watchable. And the setting was completely integral to the story.

Weirdly, it was competing with a BBC1 drama that covered pretty much the same story – and very similar setting – MAYDAY. Not bad – but not a patch on BROADCHURCH.

A few weeks ago I made reference to the phenomenon of writer’s anxiety over their ideas being stolen and how it really isn’t productive to worry about this, backed up by some wisdom from a UK screenwriters linked-in discussion.

It’s uncanny in my experience how different people just do seem to have similar ideas at the same time – so a few months ago both BBC and ITV had their period posh department store series. And this week we had two small-town, contemporary crime series about child murder \ disappearance.

The similarities between these two shows were huge. Not only this – they actually competed with each other at 9pm on Monday evening. But even more extraordinary – they were both made by the same independent production company – Kudos.

So Kudos was competing with Kudos over the same idea! Presumably these two shows were both shot last summer. Executive Producer on both shows, Jane Featherstone, must have got a bit confused about what notes she was giving to which show!

The bigger question I suppose is – why was the time right for this idea? What makes this show such a good idea for NOW?

And I’m afraid I’ve no idea of the answer to that question.

What I do know is that BROADCHURCH was a crackingly good opening episode – in  many ways an object lesson in the creation of a pilot episode.

Another thing that really interested me about BROADCHURCH is that, according to his fascinating twitter feed, Chris Chibnall wrote the script ‘on spec’ ie for himself – he wasn’t commissioned to write it. ‘Right then: tonight, ITV 9pm, a script I wrote on spec, brought to life by a dream cast. Do watch. We’re all proud of this one.’

And it has the feel of a passion project, a script Chris HAD to write.

I’ve worked with so many new writers over the years and on so many ‘spec’ scripts that have gone on to open doors for these writers. But it’s the culture in the UK that these uncommissioned scripts by new writers don’t get made – even if they can launch a whole career.

This has always been a frustration to me – although even more to the writers whose wonderful scripts don’t get made! But it strikes me as a real waste.

In the US there’s a tradition of a huge ‘spec’ market – writers write spec scripts in the hope of getting these scripts made – and it happens – they don’t just use them as ‘calling cards’.

BROADCHURCH is a great example of how TV and film companies in the UK should make more ‘spec’ scripts.

Thinking of this, there’s one recent script that I’ve worked on in particular that sticks out – ‘Laurie & George’ by Regina Moriarty. Gina wrote this script on the 2012 C4 screenwriting course. When I first read it, I was blown away by it – it has pretty much everything you ask for in a script – wonderful characters, a great sense of humour, pathos, and a really strong, appealing narrative premise.

Almost everyone who’s read the script loves it – it’s opened doors for Gina all over London, it’s won her the prestigious 2013 Arts Foundation Award, it has fans at a host of indies and at all the major broadcasters – but does anyone want to make it? Well not yet anyway – but I live in hope.

It’s the viewers who are missing out! Let’s see more ‘specs’ hit our screens – I can point interested exec producers in the direction of a plethora of wonderful spec scripts that audiences would love.

It’s been a very pleasing week with ‘alumni’ writers from the courses I’ve run (the Carlton new writers course before the Channel 4 screenwriting course) – last Saturday I was at the Royal Court in London to see Anders Lustgarten’s new play ‘If you won’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep’; on Monday it was Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch; Tuesday and Wednesday the excellent Terry Cafolla’s ‘The Crash’ on BBC3. And then I hear that another of last year’s C4 writers, Cat Jones, has just got her first TV commission.


If you’ve used or are interested in my script consultancy service, you may wish to see some very nice new testimonials that I added last week – thank you very much to all the writers concerned.


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Word seems to be spreading – with recent bookings from writers in Italy and Hungary for our May 11-12 course with special guest ESTHER SPRINGER (script editor of such excellent series as ‘THE FADES, SURVIVORS, and many more).

Don’t miss out – our March course sold out, and you can still take advantage of our ‘early bird’ discount price of £197.

Until next week,

All the best


March 8th 2013