When the creators reflect on the early success of Brassic, a frenetic British comedy that lit up the schedules of Sky, their minds turn to the man who started it all: actor Dominic West.
David Livingstone, the founder of Brassic producer Calamity Films, was making British indie film Pride when West approached him with an idea. During their time on set, West was dazzled by the wild stories of his co-star Joe Gilgun’s misadventures, and told Livingstone that he should consider bringing them to the screen.
“Dominic West called me over and said, ‘You should listen to these stories. Joe is the funniest person I’ve ever met, you should make it into a TV show,'” Livingstone recalls. “I said, ‘I’ve never made a TV show, but I’ll make it if you’ll be in it.'”
West, who starred in The Wire and the BBC’s recent adaptation of Les Misérables, agreed. So, armed with an actor for a yet-to-be-created role and a scattered series of stories from another actor with no writing experience, Calamity set about making its first foray into television. Livingstone’s first job: find a writer. This is where The Driver creator Danny Brocklehurst came in.
Brocklehurst picks up the story: “I’d loved Joe from This Is England and Misfits, so I was really happy to meet him, but deep inside me a little bit of me did think, ‘Oh god, this probably won’t happen.’ But actually, we just got on really well and some of the stuff he was saying was just hilarious.
“He clearly put a lot of thought into what the show could be. Joe would be the first to admit it was rough around the edges, but we soon discovered we could collaborate and work well together, and knock it into something that could be a really entertaining comedy drama. I was itching to do something in this space again.”
Calamity took it to Sky, which loved the story Brocklehurst and Gilgun had created about a working-class group of friends finding creative and often illegal ways to win at life in the northern British county of Lancashire. And so Brassic was born — and it’s start to life was as frantic as the car chase that opens the first episode.
Before the show had even aired, Sky commissioned a second series. When it debuted, it became Sky One’s biggest comedy launch in seven years with 1.7M viewers. And with Mipcom weeks away, distributor ITV Studios Global Entertainment is already striking deals with international broadcasters.
Deadline can reveal that the show has been sold to CBC Gem in Canada, France’s Canal+, and ABC in Australia. Comunidad Film in Spain and New Zealand’s Rialto have also picked it up.
Brassic invites inevitable comparisons with Shameless, the comedy drama with William H. Macy that started life on Channel 4 and has run for 10 seasons on Showtime. “I don’t love the comparisons with Shameless, but clearly there is a tonal similarity,” admits Brocklehurst, who worked on the original Paul Abbott show. He adds that it would “be amazing” if Brassic could be remade in the U.S. with the same level of success.
Frank Gallagher-style calamities come thick and fast in the first episode, with Gilgun’s bipolar character Vinnie killing a pheasant while trying to escape the police, and stealing a blonde shetland pony and dyeing its hair black. West, who started the whole thing, features as a doctor who spends more time on dating apps than listening to Vinnie woes.
Gilgun would spitball these ideas, very often through rambling late-night WhatsApp voice messages, and Brocklehurst wrestled them into a lively, fast-paced narrative. This was very purposeful.
“You have to be much more aware of grabbing the audience quickly and flying in there. I’ve been guilty of winding myself into a show and it takes you a while to get going. I just don’t think you can afford to that at the moment,” Brocklehurst says. “I just know how unforgiving audiences are these days. There’s a tendency, particularly with the lack of concentration and social media, that people like to declare things as ‘slow.'”
This is partly a symptom of so much choice, which Brocklehurst thinks is a blessing and a curse for writers. “There are so many places now making drama, which is obviously great,” he says, but he does worry there is just “too much material” for audiences.
Livingstone agrees: “There’s a lot of similar product out there… you do need to have a point of difference. You look at Netflix, there is such a breadth and depth of material, and I often don’t know where to start.”
This is where Sky helped. “There was an advantage for us at Sky in that there is a captive Sky audience, and when Sky decides to sell something, they’re pretty good and focused. You go to the gateway of Sky material, and Brassic is plastered in front of you for a significant period of time. No one is going to miss it,” Livingstone explains.
The creators were staggered by the reaction from Sky viewers. “When I first heard it [was the biggest comedy in seven years], I thought I must have been misunderstanding something,” Livingstone says. Brocklehurst says the response was “very gratifying,” including messages from colleagues and viewers.
Work is underway on series two of Brassic, while Brocklehurst and Livingstone are spinning a number of other projects. Brocklehurst has written a pilot of his BBC show The Driver for FX, with Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito lined up to star. He is also developing Amazon show Dirty with Sharon Horgan about a female cop who works at night policing the sex industry.
Livingstone’s Calamity Films has just released Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring Renée Zellweger, and is preparing for the launch of Emma Thompson-penned feature Last Christmas with Emilia Clarke. Calamity was working with StudioCanal to develop an adaptation of Man on the Run, Tom Doyle’s book about Paul McCartney’s 1970s adventures, but it has “stalled” following the death of writer Neil Jaworski in June. Jaworski was co-writing with Matt Delargy.
Livingstone says he would be open to doing more TV. He might just be waiting for the next tip-off from Dominic West or another unlikely source.
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