Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

December 11, 2011

TV JAMs - a chat with the producer

As I mentioned a few days ago, Andy Brereton, the BBC producer in charge of the coming TV series of Just A Minute, chatted to me over the phone a few days ago. I have to begin by thanking him very much for being so generous with his time. I should say it was his idea to have the chat which of course I readily accepted.

It did make me think that maybe a series of interviews for the website and blog might be quite good fun. If you read this through to the end, and find it interesting, let me know and who knows - maybe this will be the first of a series of JAM related interviews.

I think it would be a bit boring to read a word for word transcript so I have written it up as an interview in the first person.

The first thing to say is that Andy is clearly a big fan of Just A Minute. He quoted to me things that happened on the show, word for word, both on radio editions and in the TV shows which he was in the process of editing. He told me had been following the show for 20 years or so, about the time Paul Merton started on the show.

In his letter to me Andy said that he saw his TV series as being a conscious effort to honour or pay tribute to the radio version. I may have misunderstood but I think he said the TV shows are to be regarded as a celebration of the show and they have done a bit of historical work, listening to old shows. The first ever subject used on JAM will be used in the TV shows, excuses for being late.

The Minute Waltz will be used at the start of the show which sounds like it will sound pretty much identical to the start of the radio shows with Nicholas saying "welcome to Just A Minute".

One of the two current radio producers Tilusha Ghelani has been involved in the production of the TV series and Andy also made it clear that Nicholas Parsons and Paul Merton have been closely consulted about things too. The Messiter family have also been consulted.

He said that as he went into putting JAM on TV people often said that it was an amazing radio show and he was clear he didn't want to mess that up.

Andy told me his current favourites of the panellists are Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Marcus Brigstocke, Graham Norton and Tony Hawks.

I asked how the decision to do the TV series came about and he said that he had been in charge of the "Twenty-four Hour Panel People" programme from earlier this year. For those who haven't seen this, this involved the comedian David Walliams playing just about every panel game live on TV over 24 hours. One of the games was Just A Minute where David appeared with Nicholas, Tony Hawks, Sheila Hancock and Lee Mack. He said that when he asked Nicholas to appear on it, he was very keen. He said he was watching it as it was being performed with programme commissioners from the BBC and they all agreed it was very funny and worked well on TV. He said he'd also been to radio recordings and it was great fun to see people doing it, and that he thought that was what could be added to the radio version.

I asked him if he thought the show could continue past these initial 10 shows and he said there was no commitment beyond that and the thing they had to do was to make the 10 shows they have made really work. He is also clear that he does not want it to harm the radio show. Andy said "the thing I love about Just A Minute is that it's kind of a treat every week", and you didn't want to have it constantly on the air.

I asked him what had been learned from the past attempts to put JAM on TV, and Andy said he had spent some time looking at previous pilots. He said he had been involved in daytime game shows in the past and they had sometimes recorded four or five a day, and it felt like they were churning them out as if from a factory - he had decided they would record just two at each recording. He said one of the JAM pilots had been filmed without an audience which he thought odd. He didn't like the series where the panellists were divided into teams, or the mystery object, or the clock-like set of the late 90s. There will not be a clock on screen - Andy believes part of the enjoyment of JAM is when the blowing of the whistle is a surprise and the clock visuals can be distracting.

Andy said "in the past they messed with it and had an object round which you don't need. What you need is all the right people who can play it, as much as you can, or at least three of them, and you just need really good subjects, and you need Nicholas."

He talked at some length about how the programme was filmed in a directorial sense and I have to say some of this went over my head. He doesn't like lots of short cuts between performers, he'd rather we watched Sue Perkins keeping going so the camera will never be entirely off whatever performer is talking, though it may be moving in slowly on her.

I asked him if he had considered replacing Nicholas as chairman, and he made it clear he had not. He said Nicholas was exceptionally clever, had lots of energy and understood so well the timing of the show. He regarded him as key to the show's success. I also asked him about Paul Merton's involvement, given that he had refused to be involved in the past. Andy said that Paul at first was unsure about moving it to TV, but that he was enthusiastic once they described what they wanted to do, and played a part in getting others to appear on the show. He said that Paul had said he would do all the shows or none - a deal they were happy to accept!

On casting he clearly wanted to get all the people currently closely associated with the show. Of those they didn't get that he would have liked to have had on the show, he said he was particularly disappointed not to have been able to book Sheila Hancock, who was in a West End show, and Ross Noble, who was in Ireland. Others he mentioned as being unavailable on the days he wanted them were Jenny Eclair and Lee Mack. He also said that Helena Bonham Carter, the Bafta award winning, Oscar nominated actress, was interested in doing the show and was a fan, but in the end the dates didn't work out.

Of the new players, Andy said he thought Steven Mangan was brilliant and that Jason Manford and Russell Tovey were also very good.

He said he thought the shows with four regulars were probably the best but he also thought it good to bring in some new people too as that changed the dynamic. He said they had some difficulty booking for the last recording which was why that was the only recording that didn't have three regulars.

The audience response was very strong - they turned away people which apparently is very unusual for what is a pilot series. He says everyone thinks the shows that have been finished so far were brilliant and he is very happy with what they have done.

The programmes will play at 6pm each weeknight over two weeks and I think will run after the completion of the next radio series, in mid to late March.


Blogger EspenK said...

Oh man a lot of great stuff here. I get high hopes now that I've read this.

The original Minute Waltz? Excellent, that "remix" used at earlier attempts were annoying.
His pics for favourites too were excellent - cause they match mine. :)
But a shame Ross were not able to make it - however *great* to understand that he was invited/considered. Another clear favourite of mine.

But I got two questions:
"they turned away people which apparently is very unusual for what is a pilot series" -> How did they do that?

And: Will the tv series be released in high quality, either as a download or on DVD? I don't have access to BBC tv here in Norway :(

4:56 am  
Blogger David Nichols said...

Excellent. More interviews please.

10:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Dean and EspenK,
I was told by the lady who allocates them,that over 15000 people applied for tickets for the tv series.With an audience of only 250 plus in Studio 3 and considering most of them would want two, three or even four tickets - that's a hell of a lot of unfortunate ticket wanters - and an indication of Just A Minute's popularity.

PAul is such a driving force on the show - his comedy is inspirational to others and his gameplay is even more so. I was extremely happy to see the Queen of Just A Minute Sheila HAncock in second place on your poll of the year's players.Sheila is never going to be a laugh a minute gal but her personality is so rich with warmth and humour and bite (especially on Just A Minute to which she belongs). Julian has relaxed into the game so well it is impossible to imagine a series without him.The air was positively crackling between him and Graham when they were on the same panel.
Josie has warmth and humour too and I know you will be pleased that she came near the top of your list.I'd like to see Graham do more than one double show per recording. He's told me that he loves doing the show but his BBC commitments sometimes clash. Sue is perfection.She has matured into the ideal number one lady regular. She takes her minutes and just flies.Marcus is a fighter and was genuinely over the moon when he achieved the full minute - at the 800th recording with PAul, Sue and Sheila he punched the air with both fists in triumph - it seems we have found someone to fill in whenever Ross cant make a series. Never in the history of Just A Minute has there ever been such a large varied cast of regulars - it is rich with variety and any producer could work magic with such a cast.
Well done Dean - what you do is magic too .
Lots of love Keith

7:02 am  

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