"Hi. We're the makers of a TV show about a guy with a Time Machine."
"Ah. You want me to write an adaptation of H.G Wells' The Time Machine."
"No. We produce a children's television series about a man with a Time Machine."
"Oh. What does he do with it?"
"Travels in Time. Goes to the past and the future and meets historical characters and stuff."
"Crazee. Can't see it ever catching on. Why are you telling me about it?"
"We want to commission you to write a story."
"About Time Travel?"
"About people from the present day visiting an historical period. Because you're, like a mainstream writer, who writes period drama. Crossover appeal and all that."
"Any particular historical period you have in mind?"
"No – you choose. The sky's the limit. That's the whole idea. Mainstream writer, thinking outside the box."
"Can I bring historical characters into the present day?"
"Sure. It's, you know, as limitless as your imagination. We generally try to avoid our hero changing historical events too much, though. And he probably shouldn't create established history, either. Saying he caused the Fire of London would probably be a bad idea."
"Or the Fire of Rome?"
"Or the Fire, as you say, of Rome."
"It sounds like a fun, open ended format that will run and run. Here's my idea. Just extemporizing, but could your hero go back in Time and meet Van Goff."
"Van Gow. I'd show all the scenes from the famous paintings – the cornfield, the church, the cafe...and how about this, I'd have the hero bring him some sunflowers, and suggest that he paints them. I'd get lots of irony out of all Van Gock's contemporaries thinking he's a terrible painter, but our hero knows that history will have the last laugh. I'd do a sensitive portrayal of Van Goff's depression, but steer right away from obvious cliched stuff about him chopping off his own ear. I'd probably take the line that he was bipolar. I'd allude to his suicide too. What time does this show go out?"
"Tea-time, but that's okay, we can drop in an 'If You Have Been Affected By' line at the end. Those chaps at the Samaritans get awfully bored if we don't encourage people to phone them, you know."
"But I haven't told you the clever bit yet! The clever bit is that we'll start the story up in an art gallery, doing a Van Goff exhibition. We can show all the paintings, so the young kids will get the references even if they don't know who Van Gock is. And we'll have an art critic doing a tour, talking about Van Gow's life. We'd need a really high class actor to do the cameo."
"I reckon we can get that guy with the tentacles from Pirates of the Caribbean. But we probably wouldn't credit him."
"Great. So he can do some funny dialogue with your hero. Maybe they can compete about who has the best..."
"Bow tie, great. But then, here's the clever bit. At the end, after the hero has visited Van Gow and got to know him a bit, and Van Gock has even developed a bit of a crush on your hero's beautiful young red-headed assistant, then...and this is the scene I want to write, this is the scene I've wanted to write all my life...your hero puts Van Goff in his Time Machine and takes him back to the present day and shows Van Gock the exhibition. So Van Gow knows that he'll be vindicated and dies happy. He even hears the famous actor lecturing about what a great painter he was, and what a great man he was. And, we'll do this subtly, but wouldn't it be cool if the art critic almost, almost, just out of the corner of his eye, sees his hero for one second, in the flesh! Oh, why I have I wasted my career working within the constraints of narrow social realism! This is the sort of moving, slightly surreal, magical realist material that only the conceit of a Machine that travels through Time can achieve! I hope your series lasts for 46 years and seven months!"
"It sounds excellent. Exactly the sort of thing we're looking for. How does the monster fit in?"
"I'm sorry. I don't quite follow you."
"The monster. We don't feel that a TV series based around a charismatic hero who can visit any historical time period (or, in fact, any place in the universe, but we've played that down, because the punters aren't very interested in stuff set on the planet zog) is exciting enough. So we have a rule that wherever or whenever he goes, and whoever or whatever he meets, there always has to be a monster."
"That's right, a monster."
"You mean, like a giant chicken or something."
"Exactly. Van Goff, an art critic and a giant chicken."
"You mock me and my muse, Sir. Please do not waste any more of my time. I bid you – adieu."
"What a pseud. I was hoping for something more like Blackadder."
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