Someone out there (I have a reader!), asked me to report back on the whole process of getting my first Doctors script accepted by the BBC. So, here goes…
Spring-2003. I send in a feature script to the BBC writers room. It gets rejected.
Later 2003. Danny Stack suggests I write specifically to a named producer at the BBC who was running the New Writers Scheme for Doctors (they don’t do it anymore, by the way). She liked the script, but said she needed to see I could write half hour TV drama.
October 2003. I write a half hour TV drama and send it in. She likes it. I’m on the Scheme.
March 2004. After a frustrasting wait, I get invited up to Birmingham to see the set and talk through what they want. I send in a bunch of five story ideas. One paragraph each. Three get rejected. I’m asked to write up the other two into two-page story outlines. One of these others is a thing called “Unsuitable”.
August 2004. After several iterations, my two story ideas are formally submitted to the then head honcho.
October 2004. They’re both rejected. No explanations given. I’m well annoyed.
I took some time out over the winter. I was disenchanted with the whole process, and I had a daytime job that was taking up a lot of my time.
Spring 2005. My producer leaves Doctors. And they decide to abandon the New Writers Scheme. But, they generously take me on anyway and assign me to a script editor. I start working at things again.
August 2005. I submit seven story ideas to the script editor, including a reworking of Unsuitable. One of the other ideas is a piece called Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.
October 2005. After some work with the script editor, the two-page synopses for Unsuitable and Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow are submitted to the head honcho (second time around for Unsuitable), together with a third.
October 2005. Unsuitable and Hair are accepted. They’ve been officially “Banked”, which means that story editors can now match them up with on-going story elements and commission episodes based on my ideas. But there’s a lot of ideas in the story bank, so I’m still a long way from being commissioned.
January 2006. I get a third idea banked. But still no commission.
February 2006. My script editor leaves Doctors. I get temporarily assigned to another one. My third banked idea is “nearly” commissioned.
April 2006. A new script editor arrives and I’m assigned to him. He suggests combining Unsuitable and Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow into a single “life-saver” episode. These are stand-alone episodes that have no serial element in them – just half an hour of the story of the day. I hate the idea – it means using up two of my banked ideas, and I feel that lifesavers aren’t “proper” episodes. But, after a moan, I get on with it.
May 2006. I rework both stories. My script editor was expecting me to simply have two stories going on in parallel , but I decide to see if I can make it more interesting by bringing both stories together into one intertwining story. He likes the idea, so I get on with the Scene by Scene synopsis.
22 May 2006. I submit the first 9-page Scene by Scene of the combined stories, called Housecall.
4 June 2006. They’ve read the Scene by Scene. It’s good, but they decide they don’t like the combining of the stories. Can we go back to the parallel stories approach with two doctors seeing two different patients?
14 June 2006. I submit draft 2 of the Scene by Scene – a complete rewrite. I decide that if they want parallel stories, then that’s what they’ll get. I rework both the original stories to give them almost exactly the same beats. They’re two different stories, but they develop in parallel, scene by scene, and they play off each other. It’s a bit of a screenwriter’s conceit, but it’s quite fun. It’s now called Parallel Lines.
16 June 2006. They love it. I get a commission and two pages of notes. I also get notes from their researchers and their resident expert doctors telling me that my characters are being very unprofessional. Incidentally, it’s worth noting that this story now stars two doctors, neither of whom were around when I began the process, and one of whom doesn’t appear on screen until September, so I’ve no idea what he’s like!
27 June 2006. I submit the third draft of the Scene by Scene.
7 July 2006. I get more notes and permission to get on with the first draft of the script. The first half of my fee heads in my direction – hurrah, I’m a professional!
17 July 2006. First draft submitted. Fingers crossed.
20 July 2006. Very positive feedback. Five pages of notes, and more worries from the doc that the stars are still being very unprofessional.
24 July 2006. Second draft submitted.
27 July 2006. 3 pages of notes come back. They’re a little bit firmer this time – getting closer to instructions rather than suggestions. Fair enough – they’re paying.
31 July 2006. Third draft submitted. I submit to most of their changes, but stand up for my script in a couple of areas.
1 August 2006. More notes, but only half a page. The script editor tells me he still isn’t sure about those areas I resisted, but the series editor and the episode’s producer are happy, so he’s not going to push. Overall, he’s very happy. And so’s the resident expert doc – he particularly liked a side swipe at private medicine that I added late in the day.
1 August 2006. Final draft submitted. Script editor announces he’s satisfied, but it has to be approved by the Series editor.
August 2006. At some point it must have got the final green light because I have now been paid the second half of my fee.
And now I don’t see anything of it until it hits the screens sometime in February 2007. They have a complete right to rewrite it between now and then, so who knows what it will look like.
And finally, my script editor leaves Doctors. What is it with me and script editors?
And the top management on the series are all changing too. Apparently the series bible is being rewritten. All the banked ideas had to be resubmitted, and my only banked concept was not accepted.
So, I’m back at the beginning again. No ideas banked. No ideas in hand. New script editor. No bible.