Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Phoo Action series gets nixed - belatedly

Back in February BBC3 launched a series of six pilots, each intended to showcase a potential series. Leading the charge was Phoo Action, an action comedy based on an old comic strip by Jamie Hewlett [co-creator of pop culture icons Gorillaz and Tank Girl]. BBC3 talked up Phoo Action a lot and within days of broadcast announced a full series of the show had been commissioned. But then something curious happened, a phenomenon that's still playing out.

Nobody seemed to have a lot of affection for Phoo Action, despite the best efforts of BBC3's publicity department. Some people felt the comedy sequences weren't actually funny, while the budget wasn't sufficient to make the action sequences work. An action comedy without laughs or thrills doesn't have that much appeal - but six further episodes were already commissioned, to be made in Scotland as part of the BBC's drive for regional outsourcing.

Meanwhile the second pilot in the BBC3 series, Being Human, proved to be a critical hit. Soon viewers were launching internet campaigns to get Being Human its own series commission. The BBC seemed surprised by this reaction. Cynical souls might almost suspect the coronation of Phoo Action was a foregone event while Being Human's sudden popularity was both unexpected and almost inconvenient. [Shame on you, cynical souls, shame - don't be so doubting!]

Eventually the word-of-mouth campaign convinced BBC3 to commission a full series of Being Human, currently being filmed in Bristol. But two thirds of the original cast have been replaced - a creative choice that invokes curiosity. Perhaps the pilot of Being Human was guilty of skewing too old for BBC3's target audience? Let's hope the new incarnation retains the unique flavour that made it such an unexpected, breakout hit for the channel.

Alas, fate has not been so kind to Phoo Action. It's emerged that the six-part series has been cancelled, not long before filming was due to start. Six figure sums have been spent building sets and costumes, hiring actors and production staff. Reading between the lines, it seems developing good scripts from the slight source material proved too great a challenge. Someone took the brave step of pulling the plug, before more money was spent.

No doubt there are lessons to be learned from all of this, some of them quite expensive, but hindsight always brings a wonderful clarity. Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait until all six pilots have been screened before choosing one to give a series. Looking from the outside, it's apparent how tough a job commissioners have. Get it right and attached talent gets the credit. Get it wrong and the commissioner takes the blame. A thankless task!


Laura Anderson said...


It won a Scottish Bafta too, for best drama: http://www.baftascotland.co.uk/Awards-2008/nominations
mind you, that was in a two drama category...

DavidM said...

Sense prevails. How Phoo Action even got a pilot is the BBC's own private mystery.

Credit-stealing Ex Attached Talent said...

"it's apparent how tough a job commissioners have. Get it right and attached talent gets the credit. Get it wrong and the commissioner takes the blame. A thankless task!"

There speaks the voice of experience of an embittered and veteran ex comics editor...