THE RULES OF DRAMA

IT'S A HARD LIFE writing television drama. Having to cope with characterisation, plot, tension, dialogue, storytelling, to say nothing of working out whose concerned face will be seen in close up before each ad break. Luckily, the trade has, over the years, built up a repository of standard procedures to help out the struggling writer. We present a selection of these here...

 

STEREOTYPES

Sparring, will-they-won't-they couples must always just have effected a reconciliation when one of them (usually the male partner) makes a throwaway comment that has the other partner push back from their arms with a "So you thought that..." or "Let me see if I've got this right..."

Young men must always be 'wowed' by a girl jogging faster than they are. The young man must then sprint gamely to catch up, engage her in conversation, and finally be sprinted away from once again as she delivers a neat exit line. Cue hands on hips and admiring shake of his roguish head.

Weary, carry-on-at-all-costs executives must always dismiss steadily growing symptoms of a serious disease/condition by slumping into the driver's seat, starting off along country roads, and then a) shaking their head so much as to say "Wake up, man" and b) loosening their ties. They are also obliged to be EITHER chokily irascible OR strainedly conciliatory with the spouse who says "Hadn't you better slow things down a bit? I'm worried. We all are. You bit the kids' head off last night when they..." They must always eventually drive their Vauxhall Vectra straight into a lamp-post, their head smashing against the steering wheel, making the car horn beep continuously as the camera pulls back to reveal steam emitting from the crumpled bonnet.

No-hopers with one quiet and extraordinary talent (as it might be painting or sketching) must always have their skill ALMOST overlooked by even the exasperated hero... who, nevertheless is having a coffee while the protagonist is on the phone/arguing with their dealer when they stumble on a pile of the drawings or landscapes. Mandatory next line of dialogue: "Did you do these, Kim? What, by yourself? They're good. They're very good. No, really. Gee-whilickers, etc."

Country widowers must always go and live with their daughter and impatient, business-type son-in-law in the city. He doesn't like it, can't work the cooker, goes missing, sparks huge search, eventually found in cemetery talking to his dead wife. Ahhh.

 

THE LAW

Detectives' wives must always plan their annual socials to coincide with the discovery of another body.

Detective dramas must regularly feature cases where someone appears to have died, yet will be mysteriously seen alive by one of the protagonists...

Young copper, handing over coffee in polystyrene cup: "Whassamatter sarge, you look as if you've seen a ghost."
Old copper: "I think I just have..."

 

TECHNOLOGY

Computer-based dramas must always feature a "hacking" sequence. This must always be done in the dark, by one person sat in front of a glowing monitor, typing very quickly, as two people sit either side of him. Hacker must always say "We're in!" when he succeeds.

Dreaded viruses must always cause the screen to melt and the word VIRUS! to flash in big red letters, together with lots of twittery 'computer' noises in the background.

All computer keys must beep. Spinning reels of data storage tapes are ideal for giving the impression of a really hi-tech job. Banks of red and green bulbs with no identification are absolutely essential. Large computers must have printers that continuously spew paper when things go wrong.

Wherever you go in the world, you can switch on any computer (whether connected to the net or not) and immediately receive your e-mail - often heralded by a large graphic flashing 'Incoming E-Mail!'

You can hack into any system just by typing OVERRIDE PASSWORD, followed by SHOW ALL SECRET FILES. In the rare event that this does not work, just look for the folder named TOP SECRET or CONFIDENTIAL.

While you're busily hacking into someone else's system from your bedroom, the owners of said system watch in horrified amazement as windows open and close and screenfuls of text fly all over the huge projection screens in their computer centre. If you think you're being traced you can either turn off your computer, or pull out the phone cord - either way, all the huge projection screens in the computer centre go dead.

I'M ON THE PHONE!

If you are ever on the phone in a film or TV, the person at the other end must always answer the phone on the first ring (if not before) and you must never say goodbye or see-ya when finishing a conversation - just hang up after you've said your one sentence.

Someone who answers the phone and then wishes to speak in private must either glare at the other occupants of the room while hauling the receiver cord or, with extremely suspicious over-squirm, hiss, "Yeah, yeah, I'll call you back... no, it's not a good time... yeah, yeah, I'll see ya. [click]. What are YOU lot looking at?"

And you must always, when told bad news, do the following:

1) Say "An accident?"
2) Say "The HOSPITAL?"
3) Take the phone from your ear and look at the receiver.

ON THE ROAD

A parking space must always be available right outside the hospital/police station/airport/college. Don't bother locking the car door - just go right in.

If you're a policeman involved in a car chase, it is obligatory to....
- Drive on the wrong side of the road
- Cause serious damage to at least six cars
- Kill or injure at least four people
- Make sure you completely write off your car
- Use a hot dog stand instead of brakes for stopping purposes

But be careful, as cars in America tend to explode on impact (or if you're really unlucky, drive off the end of a pier and sink slowly).

SCHOOLDAYS

Dads in school dramas must always be surly, have the 1981 Radio One jingle playing in the background at breakfast, and grunt to their offspring as though brooding after a perennial argument. Hence: "What'll you be doing with yourself all summer, then?" or "You locking yourself in your room again?" Sentences must be punctuated by the heavy spreading of margarine over slightly over-done (ie ordinary family) toast. Oh, and he keeps pigeons.

Teenage girls in the same plays must always be in universal denial of the contents of the Royal Mail. Thus, on the cue of the retreating shadow of the postman from the ribbed-glass front door, whether or not her expected item has been delivered, she must always answer the shouted question "Anything in the post, love?" with a broken "Nothing. No, nothing, Mum" before EITHER hastily stuffing an envelope up her jumper OR making desultory room in her cotton school-bag for an industrious pile of textbooks (Tch! School, eh?)

In school scenes, the end-of-lesson bell must always ring when the teacher is in mid-sentence and the kids will just get up and walk out.

And when break is over, all the kids must instantly walk into all the classrooms at the same time apart from one pupil (with squeaky shoes) who is a bit late and runs down the corridor into the class.

At the start of the lesson, the teacher must always say, "Right, right, settle down. You as well, Gary..."

New teachers must always right their name in huge letters on the blackboard with a flourish, "Good morning everybody, I'm Mr Anderson..."

THEY MAKE THE RULES: Matthew Bullen, Gareth Randall, Chris Hughes, Gareth Thomas, Stephen Hobley, Michael Auld, Phil Stephens, Colin Mackay, Clive A Shaw, James McSherry, James McPhail, Richard Ormson, Ben H, David Hookham, Tim Hardingham, Adrian Clark, Daniel Maier, Ian Tomkinson.