Notes on The U.S. IT CrowdOctober 18, 2007
News reached me a while back that there may not be a US version of The IT Crowd. Apparently, there’s been a change of management at NBC and they’ve gone off the idea. I found this out on the Internet, which is how I find out all my information on the US IT Crowd.
To be frank, I have very mixed feelings on whether or not this counts as bad news. The IT Crowd is a very British show in the sense that it comes from a tradition of surreal sitcom that doesn’t really have an equivalent in America. The only point in a mainstream U.S. network taking on a show like this would be to reinvent it from the ground up, using my story-lines and characters merely as a jumping-off point, throwing away what’s not useful and keeping everything else. Judging by the pilot I saw, this was not what they had in mind.
The pilot is basically exactly the same as my first episode with some really nice new lines for Moss and a few structural tweaks that, frankly, don’t do much except move the furniture around. It’s very sweet of them–flattering, I guess– that they should stick so closely to my original story. But…well, frankly, baby needs shoes. I hate being vulgar about it, but there it is. And a weird British sitcom with taped-on American accents is not going to buy any shoes.
As far as I can make out, even the oddest US mainstream sitcom–’Seinfeld’, say– is rooted in the real world. Mainstream American audiences aren’t used to characters who can cling to ceilings, or sit calmly playing computer games while a fire is raging beside them…all that crap that makes me laugh. I’m not saying they’re incapable of handling this kind of humour, I’m just saying that if you really intend to do this kind of nutty show, you can’t just grab the scripts and slap a few American actors on it. You need to rethink the whole thing, so that people who haven’t seen, say, ‘Blackadder’ about a thousand times, don’t get turned off by all the silly.
Anyway, this brings me to my main reason for writing this post. It’s a long shot, but should anyone from NBC find the project lying around in a drawer before the option is up and decide to give it another go, I thought I’d do a quick checklist of things they might try in order to give any future version a snowball’s chance in hell of finding an audience. Because, really, when I looked closer at ‘Big Bang Theory’, it was just a checklist of modern geek references, and I think an American ‘IT Crowd’, if done right, could show those trespassers who the fucking daddy is.
1. Get them out of that basement.
Putting the guys in the basement made sense early on as a visual metaphor for how the IT Guys are treated in my imaginary company, but it has proved bit of an albatross for us ever since. It is incredibly difficult to get storylines going when your hero set is a basement, accessible only from a lift (sorry, elevator). Better to move them somewhere with a bit of foot traffic and get the storylines moving more organically. We can’t change the location of our set and we’re stuck with our problems. You can nip them in the bud. The office is my show is small, claustrophobic and British. It suits my purposes, but it may not be right for you. Open it out; make it more of a living space. However, like our set, it should be a ‘den’–a cross between a comics shop and NASA, a haven for nerds, a batcave. As long as you get that right, you can put it anywhere.
2. Will they/won’t they?
Right until the week we were shooting the final episode of series 2, I was toying with the idea of getting Roy and Jen together romantically. I always loved the way ‘Seinfeld’ disposed of that theme with the whole “Ah, we tried being a couple, didn’t work out” attitude, but I originally thought a ‘Sam and Diane’ will they/won’t they through-line might work out for me, or at least test my abilities. Well, it did that very thing, my friends and I wasn’t up to it.
I initially wanted both Jen and Roy to have symmetrical love lives. Their romances never seem to work out, and really what is happening is that they are slowly gravitating towards each other. But I’m just no good at any kind of real emotion when I know there’s going to be an audience sitting there at the end of every week, wating for the next gag, and the whole idea made the actors uncomfortable. They would have had to play the show in a completely different way than they had the previous five weeks, and we just didn’t have the time to get into it (that’s where the whole Rohypnol, Benny Hill ending to series 2 came from– it was basically a band-aid over an exit wound.)
But if you do decide to go with this thread, bear in mind that you need to do very, very little to keep it going. Try and keep it out of the way as much as possible.
3. Play around with the characters.
Richmond wouldn’t exist if Noel Fielding wasn’t playing him. Don’t bother trying to re-create the character; the character was written for that actor alone. Instead, find a comic actor who has something going for him, and work with him to create a new character who has a similar purpose. Think Latka or Newman…a walk-on who commands attention, then buggers off.
Same principle applies for every other character. Find funny actors, build new characters around their strengths.
4. The first series was a false start.
The characters in the first series were too adversarial. They were always at each other’s throats, sometimes literally, and the second series was a reaction to that. I always wanted the main characters to be friends. Please don’t wait six or seven episodes to have the characters start being nice to each other.
5. Stay true to the general principles of the show.
My original intention was that the show should be about the way in which men who have very specialized, highly-skilled jobs tend to become either arrogantly superior (Roy) or disconnected from the real world (Moss). Also, I wanted to write a comedy about the way technology is changing our lives and how some people have trouble catching up (Jen). I think this is strong and you can use it as a guide when choosing storylines.
Another theme is that of the civilizing influence of women on a male environment. Again, that’s a keeper.
Finally, the show is intended to be funny above all else, and the model is ‘Seinfeld, so no hugging, no learning. No ‘warmth’, except in that casual everyday way that friends are warm to each other, (something that ‘Seinfeld’ captured so well). Once again, no hugging, no learning.
6. Just to reiterate…
No hugging, no learning.
Try not to have any hugging or learning.
Avoid hugging, and equally, learning.
Neither a hugger nor a learner be.
Hug ye not, and neither learn ye.
Thou shalt not…oh, you get the idea.