Jed Mercurio, creator of hit BBC series “Line of Duty” and “Bodyguard,” has revealed a few aspects of his craft for screenwriters.
Mercurio’s course for the BBC Maestro educational series, titled “Writing Drama for Television,” has launched into North America. It is a comprehensive breakdown of the art and craft of writing, split into 28 chapters, beginning with the genesis of the process and concluding with career development options. Each chapter is accompanied by a video lecture from Mercurio and course notes, which include assignments and homework.
The initiative began at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was perfect timing really, because a lot of writers weren’t having contact with the industry in the way that they normally do, and so it felt like a really helpful way to reach out to people and get them thinking about their writing,” Mercurio told Variety.
Like all seasoned writers, Mercurio says that writers have to look inside themselves for their own experience, look at what’s going on in the world around them and have got to make use of that. He is a proponent of the pilot doing the job of selling the series to channels or streamers up front.
“One of the advantages of someone like me doing the BBC Maestro course is that I’m active in the industry right now — there are a lot of people who’ve got very good advice to give about structure and about approaching screenwriting, but many of those sit in the academic space, and they’re not working screenwriters,” says Mercurio.
“As someone who works in TV, I’m fully aware of the fact that decisions are made about whether TV shows go into production are based almost entirely on the quality of the pilot,” Mercurio adds. “So the reason I give that advice is that many of the executives within the networks who will be asked to give their opinion about whether a show should go to series or not, will only read the pilot. So the pilot has to be the best presentation of your idea for the show.”
However, the show must sustain beyond the pilot, says Mercurio. “The fact is, just in practical terms, more time and resources are put into making a pilot, from the script to the shoot, than are put into making individual episodes of the show,” Mercurio says. “But generally speaking, I think that that all of us who are working in television understand that you’ve got to play the long game, because there’s no point having a brilliant pilot, if the rest of the show is disappointing, because the audience will drift away and the show will get canceled.”
During the course, Mercurio also addresses the mid-season dip, where sometimes in the middle episodes the plot development is less significant than it is at the beginning and at the end. Mercurio recommends a midpoint to the season that is as dramatic and plot twisting as what the writer is aiming to do with the end.
Mercurio, who has tasted enormous success on broadcast television, is also appreciative of the advantages of streaming. He says that there were some networks that felt that plots couldn’t be too complicated, because the audience wouldn’t remember what had happened in the previous episode and any callbacks to previous episodes or even previous seasons would be wasted, because the audience wouldn’t recognize they were trying to achieve.
Mercurio feels that mindset has changed and has been transformed now by the catch up culture at the press of a button that has been propelled by the streaming revolution.
“Writers like me, who’ve always enjoyed having complex plots and having interweaving storylines and characters returning to the show and callbacks and so forth — that new mindset has been a real boon for us,” says Mercurio.
Next up for Mercurio as a producer is season 2 of BBC show “Bloodlands,” via his HTM Productions. There is currently no update on season 2 of “Bodyguard” or season 7 of “Line of Duty.”
BBC Maestro courses, including Mercurio’s are available for $90 each, with the option to upgrade to an all-access annual pass for an additional $30.