When Moving Wallpaper aired last year it was widely praised as one of television’s most intelligent shows in years, hardly surprising given it comes from Kudos, the production company responsible for Life On Mars, Spooks and Hustle.
Set in the fictional production office of Echo Beach, an equally fictional (but also real life!) soap, the show stars Ben Miller as Producer Jonathan Pope.
The upcoming second series picks up with Echo Beach having been axed and the fate of Pope and his creative team in the hands of Pope’s nemesis Nancy Weeks (Raquel Cassidy), who just happens to be Head of Continuing Drama at ITV1 .
Salvation appears in the shape of Renaissance, a one-off zombie thriller headed by former Ugly Betty star Alan Dale and Kelly Brook. “The idea behind the new series was to give Jonathan Pope (Ben Miller) a new challenge,” explains series creator Tony Jordan.
“After the demise of Echo Beach it was pretty clear that Jonathan’s position would be under threat. The idea was for him to try and pull the rabbit out of the bag by coming up with something extraordinary which turns out to be Renaissance.”
Reflecting on the sister show’s demise he comments: “I think it is part of the culture we know that things aren’t always given the time to just to find their feet. It was a bit of a shame. I always envisaged that Jonathan would move on and make other television shows but the demise of Echo Beach hastened that really.”
Jordan says he chose zombies because it was a “ground breaking, startling, concept for a new” although he confesses Channel 4’s Dead Set “put a slight spanner in the works!”
Returning to the show was “an absolute joy” for Jordan and Miller describes being back on set as “exactly like being back at the first day of school. Everyone immediately slipped back into the various roles they had before; bully, bullied, teacher!”
“The director’s probably the one who gets bullied at first, a bit like a supply teacher with the rest of us misbehaving! Of all the shows I’ve done it’s probably the one with the absolute best cast feeling. I don’t think that generally has any bearing on how good the show is, the two things just always seem to be completely unconnected. We really do all get on really well, it feels really relaxed and you feel as though you can try different things.”
Talking about Renaissance Miller comments: “We have Kelly Brook and Alan Dale in it and the costumes are amazing, it is so much fun.”
Jordan says the casting of Jason Donovan, Martine McCutcheon and Hugo Speer in Echo Beach “set the bar quite high” when it came to casting the actors for Renaissance and describes Brook and Dale as “dream casting really”.
Dale, known to millions as Neighbours’ Jim Robinson, says he agreed to do the show after watching the first series: “The producers sent me four episodes in LA and I laughed an enormous amount so when they made me the offer I said ‘Sure, I’d love to do it!’ I thought Ben Miller was just so funny as Jonathan Pope and I wanted to be involved in something that, In my view, was the same quality as The Office or Extras.”
One of the challenges facing Brook and Dale is playing what Brook calls “a heightened version” of themselves.
Brook says the fictional version of her “is very committed and dedicated to her work and is very similar to a method actress. She completely over analyses everything and is constantly questioning the writers’ motives.”
Picking up the theme, Dale says of his on-screen counterpart: “well he has the same name as me, is as good looking as me but I don’t know whether I would do or say the things he does. Despite that, it was great fun and it’s quite a challenge for me because I was trying to play myself and I kept thinking ‘how would I feel about this or that’ which is not what I’d normally do with a character.”
For Dale the blurring between character and actor wasn’t just confined to the worlds of Moving Wallpaper and Renaissance, as Brook explains: “People have been going around on set saying ‘Hi Jim, er I mean Alan’ – which is terribly embarrassing!”
Assuming he can make success of Renaissance, what does the future hold for Pope?
Miller says he’d “love to see Jonathan make a Sunday afternoon telly drama, Midsommer Murders-esque. Or let’s get Jonathan to produce an episode of Coronation Street!”
However, if Jordan gets his way Pope’s future is unlikely to be so ordinary: “If we did get re-commissioned for a third series I would absolutely love Jonathan Pope to make a musical. I think if he created a television musical it would be fantastic. I think would be hilarious and that’s what we’d do for the next series.”
ITV Friday, 27 February 2009, 9:00PM – 9:30PM