Producing BBC Comedy – Jon Plowman

“Comedy, I think, is the most difficult bit of telly to do.” Is what Jon Plowman, BBC Comedy Producer, said during his Coventry Conversation. Jon is well-known for his producing role on ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and many other BBC comedy programs and has been working in Television for over thirty years.

The talk began with Jon describing the ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ Christmas episode which had an audience of just over seven million on Christmas Day night. Just a few days later, the views had gone up to twelve million through the use of the BBC iPlayer making it one of the biggest increases in viewings over such a short time period.

Before producing the recent ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ episodes, Jon hadn’t worked on the program as a producer for around eight or nine years. He said that it is a notorious show and that he used to moan because Jennifer Saunders, who stars in the show, used to write the scripts late on.

Written by Alex Maidment.

Jon went on to describe that the first program he ever produced got banned and referred to the idea that not all bad starts are a sign of bad things to come as since then he has been successful. He described that comedy is difficult to do because people get offended easily by it. He described comedy as: “The most difficult bit of telly to do.” He explained that comedy is supposed to challenge misconceptions but some do get offended.

Jon very briefly described the new pilot that he produced and how it must be a world first as it is a sitcom about assisted suicide, which isn’t usually a funny topic in the slightest. Jon also described how he came across Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and said that: “Ricky and Steve were so passionate.” And this referred to the idea that confidence can help and that if someone really wants to get something across then people go with it, hence the creation of ‘The Office’. ‘The Office’ actually had very low ratings when it was first aired but after it was shown a second time a few months later, the ratings increased.

Towards the end, Jon described how: “Nobody ever set out to make a bad comedy” and explained that sometimes people just don’t like what you create. He then said that it is possible that we could see an ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ feature film in the years to come, or failing that, possibly a further series.

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