Kenton Allen, CEO of Big Talk Productions, is usually clear when he thinks about 2020. “A disaster,” he says, investigating the economic turmoil of Covid-19 via a Zoom call from his home in London last month. Like countless others, the pandemic has blasted a huge hole in Big Talk’s revenues and created an unthinkable headache for the company that should have been celebrating a very healthy 12 month anniversary. But Allen, a gruff optimist, is celebrating the victories of the coronavirus crisis instead of wallowing in what went wrong.
For starters, Big Talk managed to convince the BBC and Amazon to commission a second season of the Stephen Merchant comedy drama The offender before the first was even shot. Known for monosyllabic comedy hits included Rev. and mummyThe production company also finally completed a second season of Channel 4 / Sundance Now’s Back after a bewildering series of setbacks, both with and without Covid. Another great talk show Friday evening dinner, put in a stellar performance for its sixth (and likely final) season, becoming Channel 4’s top-rated comedy series of all time. Everyone is now wondering about a development boom that has taken place during the months of downtime.
Christopher Walken directs the cast of Stephen Merchant’s “The Offenders” series for Amazon & BBC
“It was incredibly challenging, incredibly stressful, incredibly fearful, but also incredibly creative,” says Allen, puffing on a cigarette while sitting on a balcony soaked in the winter sun. “Having six or seven months to really focus on developing and having the space to say exactly what we all love – the slate is probably as strong as it was in the 12 years of big talk.”
The offender is a project that everyone is particularly enthusiastic about. It’s quite a turnaround from nine months ago when the six-part series was forced to shut down tools after just 12 days. Everyone grimaces and tells of the “shameful” experience he described as “looking into this deep, dark well of oblivion”. But it was in those gloomy moments that Allen got a call from the BBC asking if Merchant would write Season 2 in the months when the cameras weren’t rolling. “We said to that, ‘We’ll write Season 2 if you commission Season 2,” he recalls. The BBC and Amazon agreed that after production resumed, both seasons would be shot back-to-back. A virtual writer’s room became Quickly set up and Merchant went to work on new ideas for his show starring Christopher Walken, which centers on a group of seven strangers watching their repayment penalty in Bristol, England.
“We took advantage of the fact that we had already shot the scripts to find out more before we turned around. We were able to rewrite Season 1 to reflect what will happen to the characters in Season 2. We could deepen and superimpose it, ”says Allen. The former BBC executive was impressed with the work ethic of Merchant, who also stars, directs and co-produces The offender through his Four Eyes outfit. “His ability to be creative and focused in an environment that wasn’t really good for creativity and focus was exemplary,” added Allen.
It’s a passion project for after all The office Co-writer Merchant, who co-created the series with Elgin James, drawing on his experience of being raised by parents running a local community services project. This prevailed in his early scripts for the series and helped Big Talk win the fastest assignment in its history, according to Allen. He posted the show to BBC chief content officer Charlotte Moore on a Thursday, and ITV Studios’ production company got the go-ahead the following Tuesday.
Filming in Bristol is now back on track. Filming is slated to run through October 2021, barring major interruptions as a more virulent strain of coronavirus rages across the UK. “It’s slower and we’re building some sets that we didn’t originally plan. We have a controlled environment for some elements so we are not there, ”says Allen, who is barred from visiting the set due to strict security protocols. The team planned the shooting schedule for Walken, which is considered clinically vulnerable in the UK due to its 77 years of age. “He’s not on set yet and won’t be arriving until March. We constructed the schedule so that it doesn’t come here during the peak corona. It comes when we hope it will be safer and that there will be a vaccine. The plan is for him to be vaccinated. “
Everyone knows from hard experience what it means to protect vulnerable stars on set after work Back with British actor Robert Webb. The comedy of Veep Writer Simon Blackwell is returning to Channel 4 on January 21, but it has taken more than three years to get to that point after the first season debuted in September 2017. This is in large part because Webb had routine medical treatment at the start of Season 2 filming in October 2019 when it was discovered he had a heart murmur that led to major open heart surgery.
“The prediction was that he had about six months before something much more serious happened,” explains Allen. “We managed to keep shooting body doubles for two more weeks, and then we switched off. We have five weeks. Robert was signed off for four months. We resumed filming in mid-February this year (2020) and shot for four weeks, obviously paying attention to Robert. Then we were closed on March 16th [because of coronavirus] – At that point we were two days from graduation. “
Backwho have favourited Webb and his reunited Peep show Co-star David Mitchell became a guinea pig for ITV Studios’ efforts to resume production last year. The two-day shoot turned into six days of security logs including actors performing against iPad screens. Were there ever fears that the shoot was cursed? There were obviously worrying moments, Allen says, but ultimately the commitment to season two was unwavering. “Channel 4 and Sundance were amazing. Obviously it didn’t get any cheaper … as a broadcaster, you never went without it. “
Season 1 follows Webbs Andrew, who shows up at his foster father’s funeral and, to the dismay of his former foster brother Stephen (Mitchell), finds his way back into the life of his old family and the archetypal cuckoo in the nest. Season 2 turns that dynamic on its head, and Stephen re-enters his family’s life and seeks to restore his role in it. The relationship between Stephen and Andrew is reminiscent of Mark and Jez Peep showand everyone hopes Back may be the next cult series with Mitchell and Webb. At least the show is in good company when it comes to large gaps between seasons, as Allen points out Fawlty Towers and Absolutely fantastic both had similar screen absences.
Big Talk set its own milestone in the annals of British comedy history last March Friday evening dinner returned for its sixth season with 4.3 million viewers – the largest audience to have ever seen a comedy series on Channel 4. The story came to a natural conclusion when Adam (Simon Bird) and Jonny (Tom Rosenthal) found love in the chaos of their family life. Allen says the creator is Robert Popper, who wrote every single one of Friday evening dinner 38 episodes, stuck in new projects now. This includes a pilot project planned for this year entitled I hate youwhat he does with Big Talk. Allen is shy in the act.
“I don’t think Robert would want to write a series where they bring their wives and children around,” he adds Friday evening dinner. “Never say never, but I suspect it probably is for now. You never know. We are currently not planning any more Friday evening dinner. Instead, Channel 4 lit a 90-minute documentary in green Friday evening dinner Success and 10th anniversary this year. Big Talk is currently shooting interviews for the film, which will air this spring. Hopes remain to make a US version of the show after CBS and NBC both attempted adjustments. Allen reveals that the US remake bears the title Dinner with the parentsis now in the hands of former Late show with David Letterman Writer Jon Beckerman.
Elsewhere in the US Duty of the jury, a remake of the BBC Jury Duty Comedy We, the jury, remains on hold at CBS after the pilot derailed from the pandemic last year. “It’s still alive,” says Allen. Big Talk is also planning to adapt its time-traveling comedy by the ITV2 jazz band. time wasterfor ABC. A pilot is planned for the spring, but Allen is being measured when talking about the US slate. He knows firsthand that it can be a volatile market after a brutal experience in 2011 where he found Big Talk was a remake of Free agents was canceled mid-season after an NBC parking attendant requested the return of his permit.
Otherwise, Allen says that big talk development includes drama, half-hour comedies, and feature films (where there are hits, including Baby driver, Attack the block and of course, Shaun of the Dead) is in good shape. The only problem now is that the market is full of well-developed materials competing for attention. “There are a lot of projects that are at an advanced stage of development so the competition has never been greater, but there are a lot of buyers out there and they are starting to think about 2022 after all that has been pushed back a year,” says Allen. 2020 may have been a financial disaster, but he is confident that Big Talk is well positioned for the “bounceback” this year and beyond.