Tuesday 29 September 2015

Third Time Lucky - Refining the Idea

On the last blog post, I kicked off an idea for a new sitcom called Third Time Lucky, a sitcom about a Geoff and Lynette who are getting married for the third time - the second time to each other. Someone left a comment which is quite interesting, which I'm going to comment on here:

Is the sitcom concept a little bit mushy though, to have them both madly in love with each other after having come through failed marriages? That’s a lot of heartache to just come out the other end of and be ready for more surely? Why not have them Geoff and Lynette be more cynical about love and relationships? Maybe they decide that love is unrealistic or not worth the effort. But companionship is something they both crave and, knowing they can enjoy each other’s company without all the expectations a normal marital relationship demands (sigh… :D) Geoff and Lynette should therefore be able to make their marriage of convenience work. They have each other’s company, separate rooms, they know each other’s ways and may even have grown up kids together. Perhaps the only tension is that they might actually start to have feelings for each other. Marriage in reverse? Then the arguments happen because they’re falling in love and don’t want the other to know. Or they are in denial. I imagine it’s been done though. Or it’s been tried and failed. Horribly. Discuss.

Okay, let's discuss that. It's an interesting proposition. A couple living together as a marriage of convenience for companionship. A few things to say about that:

1. Marriage of Convenience
A Marriage of Convenience as a central idea could well work. But that's a different show. And they don't need to have been married three times for that. Or even to each other. It could be that they made a pact that they've been friends for ever and to marry at fifty if they didn't marry anyone else. But overall, it's a quite different show tonally, because it's about boundaries within a marriage of convenience and it feels a bit downbeat to me. In the hands of another, such as the commenter above perhaps, it could be a thing of joy.

2. Is that a Movie?
Couples who live as couples but aren't supposed to fall in love feels like its been done in movies many times over. Lots of romantic comedies are marriages of convenience - a man and women thrown together by circumstance and they're not supposed to fall in love (eg. The Sure Thing) but do. Maybe because it feels like the idea won't sustain for years,and you're so desperate for them to admit their in love that the idea should last 90 minutes, rather than 26 episodes/13 hours or more. Again, I can't prove this - or anything, but that's my gut reaction.

3. Is that a Thing?
Couples who marry for companionship and live separate lives - does that actually happen? Is it a thing? Feels like the sort of thing some people might do, but they'd both be fairly odd fish (and cold fish). In my idea, I'm going for the mainstream audience and trying to create a situation that is identifiable. Again, nothing wrong with unusual situations. I've written sitcoms set in Afghanistan and Bletchley Park. But this time, I'm trying to keep it simple and identifiable.

4. Long-Term Sustainable Chararacters
A couple who are realistic about how hard it is to live together, who draw up boundaries, etc probably have too much self-awareness to be sustainable long term sitcom characters. I'm really drawn to the idea that they re-marry saying 'this time it'll be different', because, sadly, that's what people do. They do the same thing again and again and expect a different result, but don't get it. That seems like a more truthful comic situation to me, and a more fruitful one. So I'm going with it.

So Now What?
Thank you for the comment, though. It helps me define my idea against it. Anything that does that is a good thing. So what's the lesson?

Amusing Picture of Horse Because Pictures Break Things Up
Talk to one or two trusted people about your idea. They will inevitably start to pick holes in it, or pull a face at a certain point that betrays what they really think. And you will leap to defend your idea. In so doing, you may find out what you really do like about the idea, and that's a good thing.

Equally, the idea may fall to bits and prove indefensible or uninteresting. That's a good thing too because you've been spared the labour of flogging a dead horse. Or at least a horse you're not interested in.

Sitcom is so hard, and takes so long to get anywhere, you have to be passionate about the idea. And confident you can write it. That's why writing cynical ideas that you think might get bought is such a bad idea - because they may well get turned down anyway and you've spent all that effort on something you didn't even like.

You will fail. I do, almost all the time. But fail well with something you're prepared to go down clinging too. Too bleak? Well, that's the world we're in folks.

I hope that was useful. Dave Cohen and I talk about stuff like this on our podcast, but also it's much better done in person. So why not consider coming to our sitcom workshop on Thursday 5th and/or Friday 6th November 2015 in London? Dave and I will be there taking you through the stage of creating, plotting and writing sitcoms, and people seem to like it. Go here for more info and reviews.


  1. I like the amusing picture of horse. It broke things up. If only you could do that with a sitcom.

    1. "My lovely horse" immediately springs to mind.
      Or Dobbin from Rentaghost *holds nose and jumps*