Ross Parsons interviews one of the writers of Channel 4’s new comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey.
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With an impeccable pedigree behind it, Drop the Dead Donkey, Channel 4’s latest comedy show, begins on Thursday 9, Ross Parsons talks to one of the writers responsible.
The world ofTV news, never a cosy one, is getting tougher. The ‘good old days‘ of Baker and Bosanquet, of Rippon and Ford have vanished under an avalanche of commercial pressures. Satellite TV, deregulation and the imminent sale of [TV franchises have added a new cut-throat element to the competition among news programmes. Into this sea of troubles, Channel 4 have pitched their own offering, Drop the Dead Donkey, a comedy series set in a TV newsroom. Not, they hasten to stress, in any particular TV station’s newsroom.
So, we shouldn‘t assume that the millionaire media mogul who takes over the fictitious TV station is based on anyone in particular? ‘That‘s right, no one in particular, you can put your own millionaire mogul into it, whichever you choose.‘ Suggested Guy Jenkin, one ofthe show’s producers and writers. Throughout, the series offers a dire warning of what TV news may turn into. ‘We try and take aboard the changes that are taking place; the pressure on some of the new news stations to go a bit downmarket and the move to make newsreaders more important as personalities.‘
Dead Donkey is the latest thoroughbred to canter out of the stables of Hat Trick Productions. Their previous winners include Who Dares Wins, Whose Line is itAnyway? and Norbert Smith: A Life, while both the writers have also worked together on Not the Nine O’Clock News and Shelley.
The motivation for writing the show was twofold. Neither Jenkin nor co-writer Andy Hamilton felt there had been a half-decent office comedy written. ‘It’s something that everyone experiences, and we hope that people that will relate to some of the characters. The other reason I it’s attractive, is because the currency that they deal in is the news and so you can address topical stories very natitrally. simply because that’s what they’re talking about all the time.’
Like some wayward teenage thrash band, the duo had to search hard before they hit on the right kind of obscure title. ‘We were being taken
round the BBC news room and someone came
charging up to this harrassed looking editor and said a “a bloke‘s just been shot in N. Ireland shall we use it?" and the editor yelled back “if he‘s dead he's in.‘ Well, we thought about using that as a title. we wanted something with that sort of quality. then we had Dead Belgians Don't Count
before finally settling on Drop the Dead Donkey.’
For them it encapsulated the kind ofjargon hurled about a studio in the last frantic minutes before a bulletin goes out. Relating. in this case to the pulling of a news story on the tragic loss of a donkey.
In order to try and include topical material part ofeach show will not be recorded until the day
before it’s transmitted. Although there won’t be any actual news broadcast, a la Two Ronnies, there will be comments on the way the news is being dealt with. ‘lfwe were doing it this week I imagine the problem would be, oh God how do we deal with this Nicholas Ridley story, Tory Central Office is complaining that we never show him smiling and then there‘ll be the search for pictures of Nicholas Ridley smiling and of course there aren ’t any pictures of Nicholas Ridley smiling.’
Drop the Dead Donkey, Thursday 9August on Channel4. See TV Listings.
58 The List 27 July — 9 August 1990