About A Sitcom That Didn't Happen
17 January 2020
A few years ago I started the process of developing a sitcom. There was a fellow from Tiger Aspect interested, and he was going to pitch it to the BBC. And by ‘started the process of developing’, if this sitcom was the road to Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League triumph, we didn’t get much beyond the birth of Alex Ferguson’s great grandparents. No further, in fact, than me writing the first ten minutes of episode one, the Tiger Aspect guy taking it to someone at the BBC, and the guy at the BBC passing on it.
The setting was a low-budget Scottish version of SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Life), with four folk working at a small observatory, with a cardboard cutout of William Shatner in the corner. The show was to be called Waiting For Sputnik, and nothing would ever happen. One of those sitcoms.
This was about ten years ago. Yes, that was three years after The Big Bang Theory started, but it was at least four years before I knew The Big Bang Theory had started, so the idea didn’t come out of that. But still, had my sitcom not crashed and burned on the back of the writing not being so great, it certainly would’ve done when coming face to face with Sheldon.
My cardboard cutout Shatner was going to be voiced by the actual William Shatner, which I thought of after Big Bang was already, in its alternative universe where shows get made, getting Leonard Nimoy to voice a Spock toy.
Anyway, my main recollection of spending two months developing ten minutes of sitcom script is of arguing over this joke:
The first episode opens with three people in the lab. An older chap, called Gordon, is sleeping at his desk. The other two are chatting, and then one of them (in my head, played by Bill Bailey) gets up to make a cup of tea. He asks Gordon if he wants one, Gordon doesn’t reply. He nudges Gordon. Gordon doesn’t move. He realises that Gordon isn’t just sleeping. He looks round and says, in a deep Brian Blessed kind of a voice, ‘Gordon’s dead!’ A pause, then he says, ‘See what I did there?’ After he says ‘Gordon’s dead’, in a perfect sitcom world, Brian Blessed would’ve been paid twenty quid to come in and voice an echoing ‘dead, dead, dead…’ in the background.
(Episode One of my sitcom was going to be a dead body episode, which would, frankly, have been better than episode 1 of Big Bang which is a guys-just-want-to-get-laid episode, much like ninety-five per cent of all the other Big Bang episodes.)
My man from Tiger Aspect didn’t get the joke.
OK, it’s not ‘Yes you did, you invaded Poland,’ but as sitcom jokes go, it’s not terrible. Or cheesy. Or awkward. Or based on embarrassment. In fact, it’s based on a guy making a gag as soon as he finds out his work colleague’s dead, which I rather like.
But the guy from Tiger Aspect didn’t get it. And he wanted it removed. I said, ask around the office, everyone will get it. He worked on his own in a small office, rented out at the BBC’s Pacific Quay in Glasgow. He (said he) went out into the wider BBC office and passed around the gag. No one got the reference, (he said.)
So, when I say it took two months to develop ten minutes of sitcom script which was then summarily rejected by one person and never looked at by anyone else, it was actually two months of arguing over a joke based on Brian Blessed’s most famous two-word quote.
I can’t even remember if it stayed in, so it’s not like this story goes anywhere. And it’s just as well I didn’t persevere beyond the BBC rejection, because at some point I would’ve seen Big Bang and thought, oh… there goes that, then…
Actually, I still think it’s a decent idea for a sitcom, as long as there were more space jokes than getting laid jokes, and Shatner voicing a cardboard cutout would be innately funny, though that’s probably been done before as well.