Thursday, November 12, 2009

Case Study - "In and Under"

"In and Under" is a television series idea created by myself and Chris Richards-Scully after we discovered we both shared a love of Australian Rules Football though, unfortunately, he follows the Dockers and I'm an Eagles man [think Liverpool v Everton or Lakers v Clippers].
We kicked around a few ideas but anyone who knows me understands I am a HUGE West Wing fan and I always saw the show as a workplace drama that just happened to be set in a football club (the wonderful Australian series by Geoffrey Atherden, Grass Roots, is another reference point).

The other element was that, at the time, there was a lot of press around the entry of the 17th franchise into the AFL - the Gold Coast team. So the show would be about a fledgling club entering the big time.
Chris and I decided we would take a satirical approach to matters as the AFL has a tendency to be quite the authoritarian regime and very Victorian-centric. So the upstarts from the West would give them what for.

But where would our fictional 18th franchise be based? We settled on Kalgoorlie and, discarding the obvious nicknames, I came up with the Rush "In honour of all the brave men and women who came to the goldfields in the 1890s". The fictional consortium "KBC18" [Kalgoorlie-Boulder Consortium for the 18th franchise] ended up being the production company name we used.

The initial description of the project was this:

Welcome to the AFL’s newest team – the Kalgoorlie Rush. Setting up an Australian Rules football team from scratch is never easy – there’s the recruitment of the players, hiring of the coaching staff , the fight for members and sponsors in a cut-throat market, the need for a suitable venue and the search for the obligatory white haired, old trainer. Not to mention the massive egos of all those involved. When the first ball of the new season is bounced will Kalgoorlie be ready to “feel the Rush”?

Next came a three minute "pilot" we shot in a day - with Chris directing, Michael Facey producing and me re-writing so I didn't have to replace an ill actor - for the Optus One80 competition seen here:
Suffice to say we didn't win though I thought it was a pretty good effort given that no-one was being paid and it was all done within a very tight deadline.

Next step was to work on a bible detailing the premise, characters, story lines, arcs etc and then came the news ScreenWest, the local government funding agency was asking for entries for a hothouse TV workshop.

A lot of work later, we handed in our submission to find out we just missed out on a coveted place. They liked the writing, liked the characters ... didn't like the football, didn't like Kalgoorlie.

Resisting the temptation to set the series in a zero-G strip club on the Moon, we persevered and the producer and I duly marched off to ScreenWest to get feedback on why our baby had failed.

Which I must say, confused the hell out of me! "What's the twist?" "The dramatic premise?" I vaguely recall making a joke while sitting through this that, no, our show didn't have a character who was secretly a lesbian vampire. Which seemed to be what they were asking.

Sanity was restored when we had a brilliant 90 minutes with Mike Bullen (Cold Feet) as a free consultation arranged by ScreenWest for the bridesmaids. We hit it off straight away as, while he didn't know much about AFL, he had pitched an NRL series to the networks ... and, I later discovered in the wonder that is Google, had pitched an English version of The West Wing!

We discussed the characters in depth, the premise, the inherent problems of the show and the extract of the full pilot script I had written. I had tried a time fractured narrative ala In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts 1 & 2 from The West Wing but Mike thought I was "pulling my punches" and a more chronological approach and introduction to the characters was called for.

But here's the main problem - which is exactly what he found with his NRL show idea - it's almost impossible to get a sports-themed show up in this country. If it's AFL, Queensland and NSW won't watch it; NRL you lose Victoria - so you're carving up your audience. If only someone had said it that simply earlier instead of all the mumbo-jumbo we were hearing - sigh.

Yes, we vehemently agreed they weren't sports shows (just like Field of Dreams isn't a "baseball movie") but that is the perception issue that has so far proven insurmountable.

Now, I know I can write these characters and this show and I know it could be a fun little series but it's on the back burner until we work out a way to overcome the "sports" concern.

So what's the lesson in all this? Well, ScreenWest will no doubt be calling for submissions early next year for the next hothouse. This time I need to be more pragmatic about what I am going to spend hours and hours working on as a show concept.

I LOVE science fiction (think the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica not Prosthetics City, 2029) but there's not a snowflake's chance in hell a commercial network would consider science fiction in Australia. I mean, even the best stuff from overseas gets shown at half-past tomorrow, 2.5 light years after being screened in the US.

I'm thinking maybe a medical show ... no-one's done one of those, right?


  1. Damn, why didn't I think of that!

  2. ...and Chris could also play Detective :)

  3. Hey, I have thought about a revamped version of Cop Shop, WA Cop style..very 70'sish, I have a contact with one of the origional cast members, who now is script writer....ur thought's???????

  4. PS I thought In and Under was an great idea...if the script works, it should be able to carry through...its been a while since we had a good AFL based theme..I think "The Club' was the last one I can remember...i think keep on it!

  5. Thank you Kat for your words of encouragement. There have been a couple of recent sports based shows like 'Mark Loves Sharon' and 'The Cut' but I don't think either helped our cause. But we will persist!

    As for Cop Shop 70's style, give it a 'Life on Mars' kind of spin and I'm in!