Plowman to commissioners: Show TV comedy writers the money

You might not know the name, but you can’t help but know the comedy output that Jon Plowman has been involved with and responsible for over the years.

As the former head of BBC Comedy involved in the commissioning of comedy output and now working freelance for the BBC producing comedy, Jon Plowman has been a part of the likes of Twenty Twelve, Absolutely Fabulous, Psychoville, The Thick of It, Roger and Val Have Just Got In, Vicar of Dibley, The League of Gentleman and French and Saunders to name just a few that you may be familiar with.

As one of the UK’s most experienced TV comedy producers, Jon Plowman knows of what he speaks when he talks about the need to up the pay scale to whom many believe are the reasons behind why British comedy stands tall against the rest of the planet….the writers. The future of comedy output actually looks quite bright with recent comments and commitments by the BBC, Sky, ITV and Channel 4 to ramp up their comedy output. Something’s got to give, however, according to Plowman for this to become a reality.

Sitting down with the Guardian‘s Maggie Brown recently, Plowman voiced his concerns for a future generation of comedy writers. “Rates for writers are not terrible but they are by no means great for those starting out, £6,000 per episode or £36,000 per series. If, like John Cleese writing Fawlty Towers, you take three months per episode, and if like him you write with someone else, that is £1,000 a month,” Plowman said. “The commissioning process may take a while. It’s not all Baftas and Bacardi breezers.

However, while acknowledging the increased demand for the comedy genre, Plowman has his reservations . “A golden age maybe for the amount of output. But not if you are a writer struggling in a garret. Even when a show has been commissioned and broadcast, writing the next one is hard because you will be anything but rich,” he said.

We have to look at supply and demand. Writers worry about creating big mainstream shows mostly because it is bloody difficult, possibly the most difficult thing to do in television. Creating an off-mainstream show is difficult too, and in either case we need writers with real passion.

As several of us learned first hand not too long ago when producing Behind the Britcom: From Script to Screen for PBS, British situation comedy writers are the main reason why actors and viewers believe the best comedy on the planet comes out of the UK…no argument here.

In: Comedy