The subject matter may be familiar - a family living on an estate beset by poverty
The subject matter may be familiar - a family living on an estate beset by poverty and violence - but the treatment isn't. With humour and sex to the fore, Shameless is as far from gritty, warts-and-all drama as it's possible to get. "I think we've been able to move away from that without telling lies. It is funny and that helps people to absorb and digest reality," says writer Paul Abbott.Neither sentimental nor bleak, the triumph of Shameless is that rather than repelling the viewer Abbott makes the Gallagher family's life seem attractive; one, he jokes, that's a little like "the Waltons on acid".The series title is therefore ironic, because Abbott says it's the kind of name outsiders would have flung at his family.As a successful TV writer of series such as State of Play and Clocking Off, Abbott has taken his time in turning to his own life for inspiration.Like the Gallagher children in Shameless, Abbott was deserted by his parents, and lived a chaotic, carefree teenage life. Almost all of the series' characters are amalgams of people Abbott knew.Shameless was shot last summer on location in Manchester; principally in a Swinton warehouse, which housed the interior sets, and on an estate in West Gorton for exteriors. "We had a fantastic location manager in Craig Vance," recalls producer Emma Burge. "He did a lot of groundwork with the community and helped ease us in - there were some pretty aggressive people around. There was a fantastic Irish family that we got friendly with and it turned out that they had relations all around the estate so once we got to know them it opened doors everywhere," she says.The crew and cast worked harmoniously, although Burge says that constraints on time and money left everyone feeling "slightly embattled". When David Threlfall replaced Sean Gallagher as the family father, Frank Gallagher, Shameless fell further behind the clock. "Sean was just that little bit too young for the role. He's a really fine actor and there was nothing wrong with what he was doing. But David took it on with both hands and has done a fantastic job."Fortunately, Channel 4 was able to give the production more time, which Burge says allowed them to do justice to Abbott's script. Producer and writer had not worked together before, but Burge enjoyed the experience."Paul was at hand all the time and extremely helpful and practical. He had so many fantastic ideas," she says.When his work is being filmed, Abbott is a regular on set, where he can work with the cast and tweak his script. "If you stay away from the set as a writer, all you're left with is the job of delivering a script that people might not interpret to its full extent. I love being on set. If you're sitting at home, they only phone you when they've got problems," he says.Having just seen the first two parts of the series, Abbott admits to being "dead proud" of Shameless. "I've created a full version of a family drama but not a family like we've seen them before. We know they exist so why haven't we seen them on telly before?" he asks."I kept seeing (types of) scenes that I've never written before and I write a lot of telly. I've never been allowed to write like that before, though to be truthful I've never been qualified to write that kind of stuff before, even though it's mine, because you've got to get to a certain age and a certain (level) before you can sell that to executives. Channel 4 were fantastic at backing me. They didn't have to be - they could have been as suspicious as the average telly execs."SHAMELESSBroadcaster: Channel 4Producer: Company PicturesStart: January 2004Length: 7 x 60-minutesCommissioning editor: Tessa RossPRODUCTION CREDITSWriters: Paul Abbott, Danny Brocklehurst and Carmel MorganDirectors: Mark Mylod, Jonny Campbell, Dearbhla WalshProducer: Emma BurgeExecutive producers: George Faber, Charlie Pattinson, Matt Jones, Paul AbbottDoP: Tony Slater LingProduction designer: Adrian Smith.