I am a television producer, a lighter of the Idiot Lamp. But what do I actually do? Here’s an entirely imagined account of a day in the life of a television entertainment producer, inspired by personal experience and written with a large dose of creative license. NB any likeness to existing people or programmes, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
It’s 3:40am. The moon is high in the sky and I’m standing in the freezing cold car park of a TV studio tapping on the window of a Mercedes Benz. Inside, the driver sleeps, dreaming the dreams of Heart FM. Beside me, a famous TV presenter wobbles in a puddle. He is drunk, and wants to go home. I want to go home. The driver wanted to go home hours ago. He rouses and straightens his tie. I push the presenter into the car and watch the tail lights disappear. How did it come to this? Let’s go back to early yesterday morning…
6:45am – my alarm goes off. Today I’m in studio recording the opening episode of a new series of a well-loved comedy-entertainment show that I’m producing. Despite the fact I didn’t get home from work until 3am last night I am immediately propelled from my bed by a mixture of fear and adrenaline.
8:45am– I arrive at studio and open an email from the programme’s lawyers containing their notes on the show’s script. They have asked us to remove all the references to Operation Yewtree and to cut down on the amount of swearing.
8:50am – I open an email from the channel’s commissioning editor. He has asked us if it’s possible to have an extra reference to Operation Yewtree, and to put in a bit more swearing.
9:00 – Members of the production team start arriving and logging on to their computers. Everyone gets to work. Everyone except one team member – the assistant producer our host insisted we hire, having met him at a celebrity wedding. He is openly checking his Instagram account. There are photos of him in a members’ club playing table tennis with Kasabian. Judging from his clothes and general demeanour these pictures were taken about four hours ago.
9:30am – I call the team together and go through the plan for the day. I then do my ‘pep talk’ about how proud I am of everyone, telling them what a great show we’ve got in store tonight. I do a couple of what I think are pretty funny jokes. The junior researcher laughs. No-one else does. I think hard about how I’m going to promote the junior researcher on the next series.
10:00am – I go to the Writers’ Room. There are no writers in it.
10:10am – A writer appears. He’s carrying a bicycle wheel and one of his shoes is full of water. He mumbles something about a lorry and heads off to the loo.
10:20am – Two more writers have arrived. One of them appears to have blood on his jumper. I ask them to start filling the gaps in the script where we still need gags for the host. One of them goes to the laptop but seems to be having some difficulty in working out how to switch it on.
11:00 – Our host – a well-known presenter – arrives. A runner is immediately dispatched to a coffee shop over a mile away to buy a latte that he will have to try and keep hot throughout the return journey. I later learn that we’ve spent £500 importing a special insulation pouch from NASA for this very purpose, after the host learned that David Letterman has one.
12:15 – After he’s spent an hour longer than necessary flirting with the wardrobe assistant, I finally manage to chivvy the host into the Writers’ Room to approve the updated script. As we enter, we see that one of the writers has his top off, another is flicking through Auto Trader and a third appears to have been crying. The laptop displays the Wikipedia page for Willie Carson.
12:45 – Our production manager appears. She looks blanched and calls me out of the room to tell me that the child’s doll that’s the key to our big closing sketch hasn’t been ‘cleared’ with its manufacturer – i.e. we don’t have their permission to show it. This is particularly galling as this is the one item of the show that was written nearly a week ago. A small steward’s enquiry takes place where we debate whose actual job it was to have got the permission. The host-appointed assistant producer vehemently insists he delegated this task to the very inexperienced junior researcher. She runs out of the room. He smiles and rips open a new packet of Panini football stickers.
13:00 – I find a tear-stained junior researcher in the corridor. She says she knew nothing about the doll. I usher her into a side-room and give her my token for a free coffee from the canteen. As she thanks me, a wet shoe falls past the window behind her and onto the street below.
13:30 – The child’s doll manufacturer have informed our production manager in the most strident terms possible that they absolutely will not consent to the doll being used in the sketch and if we use it they will definitely take legal action against us. The junior researcher looks suicidal.
13:32 – I do a nervous, sobbing vomit in the toilet before going in to break the news to the host. I soften the blow by bringing two runners in with me to take the lunch order.
13:35 – One runner has been dispatched to buy the host’s lunch from a deli in Marylebone. The host has gone ballistic about the doll prop so we’ve had to get a specialist detox juice ordered while he goes to his dressing room to calm down.
13:40 – The writers are still deciding on their lunch orders with the other runner. They’re also trying to flirt with her quite a lot, a fact that is completely lost on her. As are most of their jokes.
14:00 – Lunch orders are complete. Rewriting of the sketch recommences. The host reappears, largely because he’s just had a phone call from Ronnie Wood to invite him to perform at his birthday party and he wants to tell everyone.
14:08 – The host’s lunch arrives. Rewriting halts.
14:30 – The host finishes his lunch. The writer’s lunches arrive. The junior researcher is called in to type up the script for the writers because their collective hands are now too lunch-bound to type. The sketch is rewritten with a teddy bear at the centre of it. It’s less funny than the doll but still just about works.
15:00 – Rehearsals start. There is small delay at the start as the host tells a long anecdote to the crew about his dinner with Samantha Cameron the night before. We all pray he’s going to be much funnier tonight.
16:30 – Rehearsals finish. The teddy bear item isn’t great but by now, we don’t have time to change it. Tonight’s guests start arriving.
17:00 – I go for my final pre-show meeting with the host. He is still banging on about the doll. I apologise again. His mood only brightens when the makeup lady comes in to touch up his beard-greys.
18:00 – The junior researcher quietly tells me she’s managed to get hold of someone in PR at the doll manufacturer, explained the context of the sketch and secured permission for the doll to be used. I excitedly take her in to break the news to the host, who is watching TV in his dressing room. Without taking his eyes off Home & Away he says ‘Yep’ in the most flippant and unbothered tone he can muster. I go to find a writer to write it back into the sketch.
18:05 – All the writers have left for the day. The room smells of death. I write it back into the sketch myself.
18:30 – The commissioning editor from the channel arrives. I ask for him to be sat in the green room, but he insists on sitting directly behind me in the production gallery, from where we watch and direct the show. He spends a lot of time asking about one of the guests’ shirts and whether it’s ‘young’ enough. I don’t even begin to pretend to have an opinion on this.
19:00 – Recording starts. It’s a funny show. The commissioning editor is laughing a lot, which is good.
19:45 – The commissioning editor is REALLY laughing. The script supervisor whispers to me that the commissioning editor appears to be watching some old Trigger Happy clips on his iPhone.
20:30 – Recording break. The commissioning editor asks if we can put some hidden camera pranks in the show next week. He asks if anyone has ever heard of Trigger Happy TV. I realise that when Trigger Happy was on, he was still in primary school.
20:45 – We film the closing sketch with the doll reinstated. It goes pretty well.
21:00 – We finish the main part of the record and start doing ‘pickups’ where we redo bits of dialogue because people talked across one another or said something libellous or unbroadcastable.
21:45 – We finish recording the pickups. Seven people are left in the audience. One of them is complaining that the show wasn’t as fun as Keith Lemon.
22:00-22:15– The host tells me what a terrible opening show it was and asks whether it’s too late to bring in a more senior producer.
22:30 – The commissioning editor appears and tells us what an amazing show it was and how we should start thinking about another series in the Autumn. I vow to myself I won’t be a part of it.
23:00- After heading outside to smoke a cigarette I don’t want, but somehow think I need, I head into the Green Room. The host is telling everyone in there what a great show it was. He won’t meet my eye.
23:45 – I get my bag and coat together to leave. In front of everyone in the Green Room the host calls me out for being the first to go. He opens a bottle of prosecco, pours some glasses and offers one to me. I harrumph and put my bag down.
23:45-03:00 – I have a long, lovely, frank, enlightening and funny drunken conversation with the host and my team. He is being incredibly charming and entertaining and appears to be genuinely enjoying our company. I remember how much I do like him. I wish he’d remember this conversation in the morning.
03:00 – He is still talking. everyone else has left. I pretend to receive a phonecall from our cab firm about his waiting taxi. He disappears off to the toilet.
03:20 – He is still in the toilet. I knock on the outside door. There is no reply.
03:30 – He reappears back from the toilet. He’s got a mark on the side of his face that suggests he fell asleep with his cheek on the toilet roll dispenser.
03:40 – I am back where our story began. As I help our famous presenter into the car, he asks me if I’d like to go to Ronnie Wood’s birthday party with him. I smile and decline. He says he’ll ask David Blaine instead. As the car pulls away, I notice the £500 NASA coffee-pouch shimmering in a puddle. I pick it up, and open my phone to check my diary for the Autumn. It looks pretty clear.