Well it’s that time again. The BBC radio 4 Extra series ‘Newsjack’ has returned, and with it, equal amounts of excitement, rejection and frustration.
For those of you who don’t know, ‘Newsjack’ is a weekly topical comedy that has an open-door submission policy, so basically, it is written my members of the public rather than an established and closed writing team.
I was lucky enough to get two ‘one-liners’ broadcast during the last series and I’m hoping for at least one ‘hit’ again this time around. However, as with all writing, it is tip of the iceberg stuff. I must have submitted nearly 50 jokes last time and a handful of sketches, just to get two very quick puns into the script. I don’t mind this, and if I fail to get anymore on, that’s fine, there are literally hundreds of people doing the same each week, so it’s not easy or statistically very likely.
However, the whole process is enjoyable (if frustrating) and examining your misses can be fun. I’m yet to have a sketch broadcast, and I don’t write very many anyway (favouring puns), but I do have a go now and again. Last week I was struck by the idea of the news that Voyager 1 had left our solar system as being a bit of a ‘sounds-exciting-but-is-actually-quite-dull’ story, and tried to write something. I ended up with two versions of the sketch, both of which I have reproduced below for you lovely people.
Firstly, I wanted to do a Star Trek parody based on Voyager 1 – so I did:
Voyager 1 Sketch – Garry Abbott
Host – Newsjack host.
V/O – Star Trek style voice over
Robot – Monotone robotic voice of Voyager 1 probe.
Host: People often say fact is stranger than fiction, but is this really true? As the unmanned space probe Voyager 1 officially left our solar system last week and heads off to the nearest star, is science fact really stranger than science fiction?
V/O: Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of er, Voyager. Its 40,000 year mission to explore strange new worlds, well one strange new world, maybe, if it ever gets there, and if it has any power left to tell us what it’s like, which it won’t, and we’ll all be dead by then, and even if it did, it would take years for any signals to reach us, but anyway…To seek out new life and new civilizations, scratch that, to seek out fluctuations in radiation from our sun and measure the density of charged protons amongst other low level spectral analysis by instruments designed in the early Seventies. To boldly go, no that’s not technically right is it, split infinitive, to go boldly? Whatever. Just to go out into interstellar space where no unmanned space probe has gone before, possibly because, well, there’s nothing there is there?
DRAMATIC MUSIC INTRO
FX – BEEPS / SPACE SOUNDS
Robot: Voyager Log. Star-date 19th September 2013. Thursday. Reading an increased density of charged particles in my vicinity, thus indicating I have reached interstellar space. All instruments normal. Power levels holding within acceptable parameters. Nothing additional to report.
V/O: Join us next week for another exciting adventure when the unmanned space probe voyager encounters what appears to be a slight reduction in solar wind activity and runs its regularly scheduled self diagnostic.
The idea behind that was that it is short and sweet and the joke comes from the under-whelming notion of a battered old 70s space probe being placed in the dramatic ‘Star Trek’ setting.
Next up, I wanted to write a sketch of a reporter being sent to live cover the exciting event and being similarly underwhelmed. I have to admit I had a very strong Alan Partridge style reporter in mind when writing this, so to play this down, I changed the gender of the news reporter.
Live from Houston Sketch by Garry Abbott
Justin – Newsjack Host.
Mazy – Exasperated science correspondent.
Prof – Boring pedantic NASA scientist.
Justin: Marking a giant step in space travel, scientists confirmed this week that the Voyager 1 probe has officially entered interstellar space. To bring you all the exciting, up-to-the-minute developments, we’ve sent our correspondent Mazy Upton to the NASA control centre in Houston for this special live report.
Mazy: Yes thank you Justin. I’m here with Professor Derek Hedger who has all the latest information live from the voyager probe.
Prof: It’s not live actually. Because of the vast distances involved it takes at least seventeen hours before the signals reach us here in control.
Reporter: Seventeen hours? What network are you with? You know what, it doesn’t matter. What we really want to know is, have you found any aliens yet?
Prof: No, no aliens I’m afraid.
Reporter: Well what about strange new worlds then?
Prof: No new worlds yet, strange or otherwise.
Reporter: Really? No new planets? But I thought you’d got like, really far away?
Prof: Yes, but basically we’re now in the space between solar systems, having just left ours. That’s what interstellar means.
Reporter: You’ve only just left our solar system? When did it set off?
Prof: Voyager 1 was launched in 1977.
Reporter: That’s rubbish.
Prof: Excuse me?
Reporter: That’s like, 36 years and you’ve not found any aliens or new planets yet?
Prof: We’ve found out lots of very important things during the mission.
Reporter: Like what? Go on. Amaze me.
Prof: Well, for example, recently we’ve seen a hundred fold jump in protons per cubic square of space, that’s actually how we knew that-
Reporter: Protons? We have those on Earth don’t we?
Prof: Yes of course, but –
Reporter: No. Not good enough. This isn’t working. When will it reach the next interesting thing? Anytime in the next 30 seconds by any chance? Just a little something to make my two day journey from Surrey to Texas worth the effort, and the licence fee?
Prof: Well, it will reach the nearest star in around 40,000 years.
Reporter: 40,000 years? Are you kidding?
Prof: But by then the power will have ran out so the probe won’t be sending any signals.
Reporter: Hang on. So it’s taken it over 30 years to get out of the bit of space we already know about, and now it takes seventeen hours to tell you that it’s in a bit of new space that’s empty anyway, and it will take forty thousand years to reach anything interesting, by which time we’ll all be dead and even our descendants won’t be able to contact it?
Prof: Well, when you put it like that, I suppose but –
Reporter: Actually, come to think of it, since Voyager was launched, Pluto’s been declassified as a planet hasn’t it? So the net gain of interesting things found by Voyager is minus one planet. Is that what you’re telling me?
Prof: It picked up some interesting fluctuations in radiation levels from the sun once-
Reporter: Stop. It’s just not enough Professor. Too little, too late. We’re out of time.
Reporter: Well there you go, Space. Big, boring and void of life, just like the Professor here. Back to the studio Justin. I’ll see you in two days you Bast-
Justin: Yes thank you Mazy.
Reading this back it’s a lot of waffle to get to the joke that actually we are minus one planet since voyager launched, and we’re not going to be able to contact it anyway once it gets anywhere exciting!
As I said, sketches seem a lot harder, and even though I could ‘hear’ the delivery of the lines in my head, it’s hard to know if anyone reading it could get the same idea from the plain words on the page. That’s always a problem though, someone like Steve Coogan could make the words ‘Ford Cortina’ sound funny by his delivery, but on the page it wouldn’t ‘seem’ like a joke.
So there you have it, the only two sketches I’ve written for the current series, neither of which got in, and probably rightly so, they just aren’t yet good enough. Turning an idea into a reality that properly represent it seems to be the key to this, and I guess, most other things!
I will keep you updated over the next few weeks with any successes and failures that I think are worthy of a bit of re-examination.