Genius first came to life when I was a producer at BBC Radio Entertainment, way back in 2004. Two writers, Ali Crockatt and David Scott, emailed me an idea for a comedy series. It was delightfully simple and brimming with comic potential - recorded in front of a studio audience, members of the public pitch their genius ideas to make the world a bit more fun. Imagine genetically growing mini-elephants as pets or a plan to film Tetris the Movie ... things like that.
I reckoned Dave Gorman would make a perfect host, and soon he joined Team Genius. Between us we knocked the idea into shape, and three series on Radio 4 and a Christmas special later, we have just finished making our first TV series of Genius for BBC2.
The biggest challenge has been transferring something that is successful on the radio and making it work on the telly, without breaking it.
We needed to retain the essence of what makes the show funny (people talking seriously about ridiculous things) while making sure that it's visually stimulating. Shows such as Top Gear have upped the ante with their big production numbers and values. People's expectations are higher today and comedy entertainment shows can be more inspiring than two people chatting on a cheap-looking set, with the occasional clip of Poldark played in.
To make our series stand out, we wanted to do big production numbers, but with only a modest budget. Working with an exceptional design team, we filmed some big ideas on location, but soon discovered that production done in front of the studio audience worked much better (and walloped the budget less). Watching the actor Jonathan Pryce tap-dance with weighing scales attached to his feet is much funnier done live than pre-recorded. It meant the audience was far more involved, which in turn gave the shows a wonderfully exciting and raucous buzz.
During pre-production, we filmed a night of workshopping at The Drill Hall Theatre. We threw the existing format up in the air and tried out doing the show in all sorts of different visual ways (with Dave standing, with Dave sitting). We also experimented with different endings to the show. One had the audience singing us out with The Genius Song. I'm relieved to say that this will never be shown on either terrestrial, or indeed, extra-terrestrial, television. The try-out was really useful. We got immediate feedback from the audience and it answered a number of questions we had been scratching our bonces over.
One thing we worked out is, for the first time since the mighty Blankety Blank, we have the contestants disappear from the set on a revolve. It adds a visual punch and, crucially, it looks funny. It's a clear example of us beefing up the radio format and adding a new joke. At least I hope it is.
Producer BBC Vision Production for BBC2
TX From 20 March at 10pm on BBC2
Producer Simon Nicholls
Director John L Spencer
Summary Genius is the comedy series where Dave Gorman and a celebrity guest chew over the ridiculous, but hopefully genius, ideas of the Great British public
Simon Nicholls: My tricks of the trade
Always say “Good luck studio” before a recording. Some might think this is old-fashioned, but it does work
Always have a great director with you - a great director can make your work look great. I recommend John L Spencer. He's great
As a producer, always bring your own dancing girls. Do not rely on the ones supplied by production
Wear a sturdy pair of shoes on studio day, so you have good grip for running between the gallery and studio floor
Always have a banana handy, They're tasty and good for a burst of energy during filming