26 August 2014

How BBC Two came to commission the first UK trans-themed sitcom

We recently announced that “Boy Meets Girl”, the winning script and pilot from the Trans Comedy Award, has been commissioned by BBC Two. Here’s how the first UK trans-themed sitcom came about…

The Trans Comedy Award Pitch at Trans Camp, 2012

The Trans Comedy Award Pitch at Trans Camp, 2012

It all started in January 2012 when the Trans Comedy Award was born at Trans Camp, an “innovation camp” run by On Road Media. The event brought together over 60 trans people, journalists, digital experts and innovators to come up with creative solutions to several predefined problems. One of the problems was: “How do we make producers of comedy aware of who they are making comedy about?” A team was established with, amongst others; comedians Claire Parker and Shelley Bridgman (who are both trans and give the project a real sense of credibility), journalist Juliet Jacques, activist Jo Shaw, actress Milanka Brooks and BBC Head of Creative Resources, Ian Critchley. They came up with the idea of launching a scriptwriter’s competition that would challenge writers to come up with funny material that contained positive portrayals of trans people.

On Road, who manage All About Trans, are a not-for-profit that supports marginalised or misrepresented groups to solve the social problems they face by changing the way they are understood and portrayed by the media. They do that by creating the right environment for journalists, editors and producers to make better content by coming up with creative ways to build relationships between them and the community, and to build and co-design projects that lead to positive social change. Trans Camp and the All About Trans project as a whole focus on nurturing collaborations and positively changing how the media understands and portrays trans people in the UK.

Following the camp, the team carried on meeting and secured the support of the BBC Writers Room. The Award offered scriptwriters up to £5000 for the best script that promoted a positive portrayal of transgender characters.

Winning script

BBC Writers Room received 320 script entries for the award – the first of its kind. The selected scripts were chosen by a judging panel that included Ian Critchley, Jon Plowman (Executive Producer, BBC Comedy), Sophie Clarke-Jervoise (Head of Comedy, Tiger Aspect) and the BBC’s Creative Director of New Writing, Kate Rowland.

BBCAt every stage the Trans Comedy Award team worked with the BBC to help writers develop scripts in a positive and affirming way by being an open resource that writers could connect with to get a hook on what it is really like to be trans. This was done by helping to identify scripts with negative meems and tropes whilst sifting through the entries.

The selected top 2 scripts, from ten shortlisted by the whole team, were developed further by the BBC in association with Jon Plowman and Sophie Clarke-Jervoise. A staged reading was held by BBC Writers Room in late 2013.

Screening the pilot at BBC Salford Comedy Festival

Elliott Kerrigan’s winning script “Boy Meets Girl”, was then made into a pilot and showcased at the 2014 BBC Salford Comedy Festival. The comedy drama about two people who fall in love was very well received by an audience from the television industry:

Salford“Leo’s had a bad day. He’s been fired (again), is being given a hard time by his mum and, to cap it all, his blind date fails to show up. But then he bumps into Judy and finds himself deeply attracted to this surprising and beguiling woman. They bond over drinks and, unfazed by the fact that there’s a bit of an age gap between them, arrange to meet the following evening. Leo’s mother is unhappy that he’s having dinner with an older woman. But Leo doesn’t care what she thinks; he knows that he’s just met someone very special.”

The cast for the pilot included Harry Hepple, Rebecca Root, Denise Welch, Jane Duvitiski, Jonny Dixon and Nigel Betts. Rebecca Root, who plays the character of Judy is an actress and voice coach, and she is also transgender.

Rebecca RootRead about her experience with the Trans Comedy Award in her blog here.

One of the driving themes discussed with the BBC was that we should make every effort to cast a trans person in the main role of the trans character. We are delighted that this has been achieved and will have a huge impact on the way people view trans people, in the same way that transgender actress Laverne Cox has by virtue of being cast in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”.

Commissioned by BBC Two

The writer, Elliott Kerrigan said:

“I saw the Trans Comedy Award on the Writers Room website and I know how important it is to see your life shown on TV in a positive and progressive way. A TV show like ‘Will And Grace’ meant and still means a lot to me. I could watch it with any member of my family and not feel awkward or like I wanted to watch it by myself in my room. We would never laugh at Will or Jack. We would laugh with them. That’s the kind of show I wanted to write.

I normally slave over the ideas, the comedy, the dialogue. But this time it felt like the characters were coming anyway, and I just had to type it up. And, for me, this became a pleasure and an adventure and I fell in love with them.”

Kerrigan confirmed that there are still 2 scripts to complete and 2 extra characters to add to the family in the story. The pilot will also be reshot. He has written a blog about his writing journey for the BBC Writers Room.

Claire Parker from the Trans Comedy Award said: “The Trans Comedy Award demonstrates that partnerships in telling different stories have a real power and a real credibility. It makes perfect sense for the media to work with the trans community in establishing a real and respectful narrative.”

In August 2014, with final details still being confirmed*, Boy Meets Girl, 6×30′, is commissioned as a Tiger Aspect production for BBC Two. Written and created by Elliott Kerrigan, the series producer is Margot Gavan Duffy and the executive producer is Sophie Clarke-Jervoise. It will be set and filmed in and around Manchester.

*While the show has been 99% commissioned it should be noted at this point that finances are yet to be finalised for this project. We’re hoping to see it on our screens in 2015.

The Trans Comedy Award team can be contacted through the dedicated website www.transcomedyaward.org or on Twitter @TComedyAward and All About Trans via Contact Us or @AllAboutTrans.

On Road,

Project Manager for On Road.

Comments

  • […] who has been instrumental in pushing for the commission of upcoming BBC Two trans comedy sitcom ‘Boy Meets Girl’ after last phase’s Trans Comedy Award was created in partnership with the BBC […]

  • […] with six national tabloids earlier in the year. And BBC Two announced their commissioning of the trans-themed comedy sitcom ‘Boy Meets Girl’, which was the winner of the BBC Writersroom Trans Comedy Award, a direct result of our project. […]