Comedy writers need better pay

Says top producer Jon Plowman

Comedy writers need to be paid more if British sitcoms are to be a long-term success, one of the country’s most respected producers has claimed.

Jon Plowman, the former head of BBC comedy, says that the renewed commitment Sky, ITV and Channel 4 have made to the genre will only pay off if the writers get better rewards.

He told the Guardian: ‘Rates for writers are not terrible but they are by no means great.’

He said that for those starting out, a typical payment might be £6,000 per episode – or £36,000 for a six-episode series.

‘If, like John Cleese writing Fawlty Towers, you take three months per episode, and if like him you write with someone else, that is £1,000 a month,’ he said.

Plowman, whose credits include Absolutely Fabulous, French and Saunders, and The Office, cast doubt on the ‘golden age’ of comedy suggested by the swathes of new commissions from broadcasters.

He said: ‘A golden age maybe for the amount of output. But not if you are a writer struggling in a garret. Even when a show has been commissioned and broadcast, writing the next one is hard because you will be anything but rich

‘We have to look at supply and demand. Writers worry about creating big mainstream shows mostly because it is bloody difficult, possibly the most difficult thing to do in television. Creating an off-mainstream show is difficult too, and in either case we need writers with real passion.

‘I am asking how we encourage new writers when they face abject poverty.’

Published: 2 Jun 2012

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