Creator, Black Mirror, A Touch of Cloth
Having been a journalist with a weekly column in British newspaper The Guardian in which he took apart (and occasionally) praised various TV shows, the boot was well and truly on the other foot when Charlie Brooker launched his own show, Black Mirror. “I am aware of that, I have written so many saying ‘this or that is bad’ and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of doing those exact things,” he says. “But most writers have a voice in their head anyway saying ‘this is terrible’. And if you have done something that has come out well and is well received there is the lurching horror that the next thing will fail.”
What came out well in Brooker’s case was zombie drama Dead Set, in which the housemates in the Big Brother house are stranded after zombies take over the outside world. It did well for E4 in the UK and paved the way for 3x60mins series Black Mirror.
“I wanted to do an anthology in the vein of The Twilight Zone or Tales of the Unexpected,” Brooker says of the series. “What I liked about those shows was that you didn’t know what you were going to get and that they explored the fears and concerns of people. There aren’t many programmes now that explore issues like that, in a way that is entertaining and not preachy.”
Each episode has a different director and editor. The opening show, The National Anthem, places the UK prime minister in a moral dilemma in which he has to have relations with a pig in order to save a kidnapped member of the royal family. Based on the germ of an idea from one of his columns in 2002, it sets the tone for the remaining episodes: 15 Million Merits, a dystopian sci-fi fable co-written with his wife Kanak Huq, and The Entire History of You, a kitchen sink romance gone wrong which was written by Peep Show co-creator Jesse Armstrong.
Brooker says UK broadcaster Channel 4 was supportive throughout. “I assumed it would go out at 10pm, but they really liked it and said it’s going out at 9pm in the Sunday drama slot,” he says. “They were mindful of the overall tone of the series, but never asked us to tone it down or joke it up.”
The Zeppotron show is being launched by Endemol at MIPTV, but does Brooker think it will work outside the UK? Is it too dark or too UK-centric?
He says: “Does ‘dark’ travel? I think about what I like watching, things like The Killing or Breaking Bad and they are international shows and dark. I think there is an appetite for intelligent shows.
“I know people have torrented Black Mirror, especially in Spain as well as in Turkey and America and France and I would have thought that the shows were fairly universal [in their appeal]. Two episodes are set in alternate worlds, so they are not quintessentially British.”
Endemol is also launching another of Brooker’s Zeppotron-produced dramas, A Touch of Cloth, which the writer says is the polar opposite of his anthology series. The 1x120mins detective spoof was ordered by Sky after, he says, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all came close to commissioning it in its original half-hour form around 2004.
An out and out comedy, Brooker and the production team took getting the details of the show right very seriously, buying a storyline that was originally intended for BBC cop series Messiah – and then subverting it in the style of Airplane and Police Squad. He says: “That [script] was our basis and basically gave us a face that we could draw knobs all over.
“We decided that it had to be played straight and the more serious it appeared, the funnier. And it had to have the staples of the modern detective drama: a dark, conflicted policeman at the centre and the artisan killer, probably a cross between Kevin Spacey in Seven and the controller of Radio 3. It has a bit of slapstick, sight gags and tastelessness as well as breaking the fourth wall.”