Coventry Conversations: Jon Plowman

Executive Producer and funny man Jon Plowman was the focus of a Coventry Conversation on 19th January 2012; where he talked all things fabulous as well as what it means to be a comedy generator for the past 20 years. The “National Treasure” spoke all about what it is like for a producer in modern day TV and also what his career has brought to television all around the world.

Jon was there to mainly talk about the return of hit TV show Absolutely Fabulous, which celebrating it’s 20th year in 2012 has returned bigger than ever. Jon explained that the show was asked to return by himself and the BBC when they realised that the show would be celebrating it’s 20th Anniversary this year. It was also a decision made because it could be made, all of the key cast members are still alive, which helped the decision making easier for his team. Jon explained that the decision to return to the sitcom was also down to it’s popularity and the fact that he felt it was time for the show to return in some form. Jon focused on the story behind the shows return to TV by explaining how he had to pressure writer and creator of the show Jennifer Saunders to get things going and have the scripts ready for the planned return, he explained that things have changed thoroughly in the time that the show has been away. “These three new episodes have been much more plot driven than any other ones that we have created, basically because Jennifer felt she needed something to get herself into the frame of mind of where the characters have been; there needed to be that development of whats been happening since we’ve been gone”; he describe the changes that comedy has gone through over the years as another reason for the shows difference than previous years.

Jon also went on to express his excitement for the show to possibly have another return in the near future. He announced that the BBC are keen for more specials to be made and even said that they are interested in the show returning for a full sixth series. Jennifer however has other plans and has since gone on to say that she is definitely having the show return; but this time in a movie.

“There is no substitute for a producer with a passion” Jon explained. There is nothing that can’t be done when you have the passion that drives you to succeed and make things happen. He explained how he has gone from being a nobody with no success to someone who is well known in the industry who is very successful. I noticed when I researched him that he has been a part of many TV shows that I have watched over the years.

The reason for his success has been the people he knows. He remembered the time that he met Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French in a small theatre many years ago, which is where his career really started hitting the big time. He thinks that it is the people you know, but also what you know; to have had a career like him means he has to be funny and knows what really works and what doesn’t. He went on to express his ideas for what makes a perfect producer. “You have to have passion, the drive to make you want everything you work for and you have to know what is funny and what isn’t”. He explained that a producer has to be able to “kill their children” explaining that every good producer should know what works and what doesn’t. If there is a really good joke that you want to tell, but it doesn’t fit in with the plot or it doesn’t fit with any of the characters then you can’t use it; therefore you have to let go of something which you think would be extremely funny. That’s how it has to be.

Jon was happy to answer any questions that we all may have after he had carried on to reminisce about his career. When asked whether the traditional sitcom is dead, he replied “no way”. The traditional sitcom isn’t seen as much as previous years because of the huge increase of channels over the last few years. Jon said that the christmas episode of Absolutely Fabulous in particular is a good example of how TV has changed; on Christmas Day, the day it aired the show received 7.49 million viewers. However by the time every other way for people to watch TV was added together it received over 12 million. Jon said that this episode in particular received the most hits on BBC Iplayer than any other programme in it’s existence; which again proves the popularity of the show. This shows how much TV has changed, word of mouth is now the most important tool for a show to be classed as a hit. He also explained that ratings are hard to judge nowadays, as long as a show that is just beginning has a decent enough start then it’s good; it’s just the decline that judges the fate of a show. Describing the differences between UK & US TV shows, Plowman described them as totally different, because of the audiences that they are presenting to.

Having gone through a lot of information in an hour, Jon then was asked to give us advice for how we can all survive in modern day TV. Jon had three points. 1 – working with the best people possible is the best way forward, 2 – Make things work, don’t do a half ass job; make it good, 3 – Be good at script editing and writing; especially if you want to be a producer, you have to know what works and what doesn’t work. He certainly knows what works and what doesn’t! What a wonderful conversation Jon Plowman gave us!




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