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Baby Cow's Normal discusses new project

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Baby Cow's Normal discusses new project
Henry Normal is man who knows comedy. Since first appearing on our screens in the early 1990s, he's gone on to set up production company Baby Cow with Steve Coogan, produced the likes of the Mighty Boosh, Johnny Vaughan, Julia Davies and Rob Brydon, and co-wrote The Royle Family. And now he's involved with that internet thingy, by making the world's first interactive daily online sitcom wherearethejoneses.com.

So explain in your own words how WhereAreTheJoneses' works?
It's an interactive sitcom on the internet. If you go to WhereAreTheJoneses.com on the wiki and type in an instruction, we send them over to a car - that at the moment is in Spain - where we have a small crew and they will act out a version of the joke or idea, and it will then appear the next day on the internet - on YouTube or similar?

What's have the contributions been like so far? Do you use everything?
No! Somebody sent us a script that was about forty pages long, [if we used it] we'd have been still filming next year. We vet them and we choose the best one and we send it over. It's very loose in the way it works, because you sometimes take an element or part of the idea and twist it. It's a little bit that you're taking...some of it's a little bit like Who's Line Is It Anyway?. People have asked to be in it - we've actually had some guest stars. One was in Brussels and he said 'can I be in it?' We went over - we weren't sure he was able to act so we let him play guitar and have a line at the end. He wasn't the greatest of actors! And then we had another chap who said will you come and use my house. We went, he seemed a nice bloke, gave him a couple of lines. All manner of different styles of contribution.

Obviously you've got your two main actors, Emma and Neil. Have you worked with them before?
Yes, I worked with Emma Friar before on Ideal and she was brilliant and she'll be in the next series which we're making later on this year.

You've got the show on all these different platforms - do you think it's important for productions companies to get their content out there in this way?
I think so. It's very difficult at the moment. It's such an open frontier and this has been a great learning curve for us. I've got to say, David Bausola who had the imagination for the idea, he's been very insightful in the way that he saw this was possible. In theory, you think these things are possible, but when it comes down to the practicalities, there are a lot of software issues, a lot of making it turn round quickly issues that you have to confront. So it's been great for us to have a project that's so big like this. We're filming for eighteen days - usually things on the internet consist of one or two minutes and by the time this is finished we'll have about seven hours worth.

What do you think the benefits are of creating comedy in this way?
It's certainly cheaper, obviously you take one of our normal productions - like The Mighty Boosh were working on at the moment - and at any one time that can have up to 200 people working on that. They spend three months writing the scripts, we film it for about a week per show, for six, maybe seven weeks. We have pre-production and post-production, so we edit it for six or seven weeks. That amount of work goes into putting 2.5 hours on screen, with the Joneses, we've doubled the output of that. Really, we've got five people in a car and two or three people back in an office.

Have you had any viewing statistics?
There have been all kinds of statistics - I'd be more interested in the end of it. I don't think, up to 100,000 now. I don't quite know how that relates. I went on a thing called Megatube the other day and I noticed that there's more than 100 video-sharing sites. Everybody thinks Youtube's the only one.

Do you think that what you're doing is a good way to discover new talent?
I think it could be, and certainly the people involved in this project - the director Sam Lucas, the production staff and Emma and Neil - they've shown that they're very capable of doing comedy and should be on television more. In terms of the contributors, we've had some good contributions and people regularly contributing. Because we've got their email addresses, we may be contacting them in the future.

Would you recommend people wanting to get into comedy writing to get involved with projects like this?
Well, that's what I'd do if I was starting now. When I started mine it was very difficult. I was in Nottingham, there was no alternative comedy in Nottingham at that time. I ended up in writer's groups with little old ladies. Had there been an internet at that point, that's what I would have been doing.

Is Baby Cow going to be doing more of this kind of thing in the future?
I do hope so. We make about six television series a year and I really enjoy it. It's what sustains and keeps you going. We've always been, both Steve and I, been looking to what the next thing is, what's interesting for us, keeping things fresh. It certainly feels like it's an area we can explore.

What other projects has Baby Cow got coming out later this year?
We're just editing Steve's second series of Saxondale, we're just doing a third series of the Boosh, there is a fourth series of Ideal with Johnny Vegas and I've got a new series coming up for ITV2 called the The Abbey which Morwenna Banks writes and stars in. We did a pilot for that.

So loads to look forward to from the Baby Cow stable. Thanks Henry!

To take part in the show, go to wherearethejoneses.com.

Saxondale appears on Thursdays on BBC Two from August 23 for a seven-part series.

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