Sunday 7 March 2010

"Yes, Commissioner..."

There's a great post over at Writing for (Y)EU about the West Wing and the EU - and the possibility of an EU version of the West Wing (perhaps to be called something like "The 13th Floor"...?). Interesting was the comparison between the West Wing's optimistic view of politics and the more pessimistic views in Yes, Minister and The Thick of It. There are some really good points here, but perhaps this is just a cultural thing: Europeans aren't just religious atheists, but are also pretty sceptical when it comes to government, science and technology.

In a way the idea seems a bit counter-intuitive; how can Europeans, for whom the state plays such a big role in life, be more wary of state power? Of course, history provides the obvious answer, and, as Tony Judt has rightly put in his writings, the welfare state is really a sort of modern social contract to mitigate the social extremes of the past. The welfare state is borne of pessimism, not optimism for state-centred utopias.

Anyway, that's a bit of a tangent, but I think that the West Wing couldn't be replicated here - not at national level, but definitely not at EU level. Not only because of different attitudes to politics, but also because the EU doesn't really do anything quite as dramatic. But I do find the idea of a "Yes, Commissioner" exciting. I can just see it as a mix between Yes, Minister and The Thick of It - the Commissioner of "Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration" trying to cut bureaucracy and maneuver his/her way through the Brussels bubble without being caught in the path of the colliding institutions, the bickering political groupings, rival fellow-commissioners, while trying to not being drawn under by his/her waring cabinet and DG civil servants... (Imagine Sir Humpfry Appleby versus Malcom Tucker!).

Let's face it, it'd be the best way for people to get to know the institutions, politics, etc. while poking fun at the clear absurdities of the system. So any takers to write it?

Or am I just in a nerdy minority of one here...?

(In the meantime, Julien Frisch will have to be our premier comedian).

[Edit: See also the blogpost on the Lobby Planet Blog, who prefers a 5 minute sketch format rather than a longer (perhaps an hour long if it's West Wing style) slot. It would definitely be hard, but I think Yes, Minister shows that if the writer is skilled, you can get some great humour from the turf wars and inter-personal conflict even if the issues (Hacker was minister for "Administrative Affairs") are kind of boring. In fact, having a bland "admin" ministry allowed the writers to have access to issues in all other government departments...)].


  1. Hi Conor

    just a small rectification: it is not that I consider EU necessarily boring, but I imagine it could prove to be quite a leap to go from a rather EU=boring view of life to the willingness to view a one-hour episode on it, hence my suggestion to keep it maybe initially to 5-min situation sketches...otherwise, I definitely agree that if we were to opt for a long version, Yes Minister would have my vote more easily than the West Wing!

  2. Sorry, I should have made that clearer in the post; I'll edit it.

    Hour long programmes could be quite tough, you're right. I'm sure that there are many formats it could take if there are creative enough writers. 5 minute sketches would be the easiest to produce on a low/no-budget volunteer type scale. (My one worry would be that 5 minute sketches might have to assume a lot of prior knowledge since they're making fun of real people, and so the risk could be that it might be restricted to the Brussels Bubble at first). Perhaps a sketch show?

    But maybe I'm just biased towards 30 min/hour long programming... I'd really like to see a Yes, Commissioner now!

  3. Don't worry!...and maybe Yes President could be a thought too (with all 3 Presidents concerned, which allows to put all 3 institutions in the spotlight?)

  4. Lino, have you ever been a lobbyist at the UK Parliament? If so, you would realise that that can be just as boring as the EU.

    I think a "Yes, Commissioner" series would run well. And the idea of three Presidents creates endless story possibilities. Any budding writers out there?

  5. there was an edition of E-sharp! a couple of years back that said that every few years someone suggests an EU Yes Minister, or Alan B'stard type set up and it makes TV commissioning editors hearts sink as it just wouldn't be funny and Europe would just make everyone switch off.
    I thought this was a bit unfair.
    5 minute sketches (tightly scripted, free on youTube) might be a good place to go with this though...
    But if it's getting people to understand the institutions that represent and govern them with a gentle humour too, there was a somewhat patronising but kind of useful model in 1990 on UK channel ITV called "no job for a lady".

  6. @ Rose

    Really? Pity that nobody's done it, though I can imagine it being a big risk since it would be hard to get right.