COMPARING THE PILOT AND EPISODE ONE
When the first series was commissioned, the decision was taken to re-shoot the pilot almost in its entirety, although the script barely changed. This became the opening episode. In fact, so similar were the two script-wise, that when the author of this article watched the transmission of the first episode, he didn't realise that it wasn't simply a straight repeat of the pilot he'd seen some eighteen months earlier. So why the need for the re-shoot? If they were so alike, surely the pilot could have been reused? Several reasons ruled this out.
Firstly, the production team apparently hated the sets that were originally used for Mark and Becky's flat, so an entirely new set was constructed for the series.
Secondly, it was felt that Mark's stand-up sequences needed a fresh treatment. In the pilot, they had been shot very simply - just Robert Bathurst delivering his lines against a black background. This resulted in those sequences appearing too sterile; they came across as very flat and soulless, and quite lacking the charm of the treatment so memorably adopted for the series. Unfortunately, the latter style, shot on location in a genuine club, was not without its own drawbacks (see part 3 of our interview with Steven Moffat and part 2 of our interview with Robert Bathurst.)
Thirdly, the pilot had been directed by John Kilby but there was to be a new man at the helm for the series in the shape of Bob Spiers. The location of Mark and Becky's flat featured in the series was changed for convenience, simply because Bob lived nearby. In reality, it would have been rather too up-market for a struggling writer like Mark Taylor, hence the production team was careful to film it in such a way that the true grandeur of this exclusive mansion block was never revealed on screen.
Fourthly, two years had elapsed between the recording of the pilot and the series, and there was a danger that some of the cast would look very obviously different, come episode two. In fact, Fiona Gillies is the only one of the four principal cast who doesn't appear dissimilar. Robert Bathurst looked strikingly different as he had quite a severe haircut for the pilot. This notable difference was turned to the production's advantage, because almost all the scenes that were meant to be set in the past were very deliberately reused from the pilot (the taxi ride, the 'party' where Mark and Becky first meet and the wedding sequence). Only two scenes from 'that era' were re-shot - the establishing sequence of Mark leaving his flat (enforced by the change of location) and the sequence of Mark & Becky at the funeral service in the church (part of which is reused in episode four). Here, the make-up department did a commendable job of making his hair match the previously recorded material. It is not until five and a half minutes into the first episode that everything we see has been totally re-shot.
In hindsight, the differences between the pilot and the first episode are very obvious from the outset. Money is rarely lavished on pilot episodes, which is why there is no title sequence, just some very simple captions superimposed over the establishing shots of Mark leaving his flat and hailing a taxi. For the same reason, the memorable theme tune - Kenny Craddock's marvelous cover version of Chris Rea's Fool (if you think it's over) - was only subsequently recorded for the series. In fact, there is no opening theme tune on the pilot at all, just the natural location sound. However, this is not how the pilot starts. It begins with Mark's monologue: "My wife left me...."
From there, the pilot follows an almost identical structure to the first episode, albeit with the stylistic differences already mentioned and a few tweaks to the staging.
With the move from Pebble Mill studios to Television Centre, most of the crew who worked on the production changed. In addition, there was also a significant change with Bob Spiers taking over from John Kilby in the director's hot seat. How many of the stylistic differences already highlighted were a result of Bob's input, even if only partially, I cannot say. However, his skilful direction is very much in evidence on screen. In particular, he always seems to have a camera in the right position to capture the actors' reactions, and never is this more evident that in the dinner party scene. With lots of tight shots, he creates a feeling of intimacy, not only between the four members of the cast but also between cast and audience. He succeeds in taking all the opportunities that were missed in the pilot to bring us close to the action. We are treated to an exquisite array of facial expressions from the entire ensemble, and lots of quick cutaways are employed to maximum advantage. Most importantly, Bob keeps Becky at the table far more, so we are clearly able to witness her mounting irritation with Mark which eventually culminates in rage; whereas in the pilot, this was never well captured due to a poorer selection of camera shots and angles, as well as Becky being allowed to constantly wander out of the living room.
Another scene that benefits from alternative direction is the bedroom scene featuring Mark and Becky. In the pilot, they deliver some of their lines on the move, as they walk from the bedroom, through the sitting room to the kitchen and back again, which detracts from the dialogue. Perhaps this was done to highlight that the sitting room is undecorated, a fact previously referred to by the characters? If so, Bob achieves this with greater panache in the series, employing the simple device at the end of the scene of dissolving from a close-up of a wallpaper sample Mark and Becky had been looking at to a wide shot of the living room which now has that verypaper on the walls. Keeping the scene confined to the bedroom lends greater intimacy to the couple's relationship at this early stage of the marriage, and leaves the director with more cameras at his disposal so he can achieve a polished result.
Bob also likes to use more unusual camera angles. For instance, the bedroom scene features an overhead shot of the marriage bed. The dinner party opens with a shot of Becky opening a bottle of wine in the kitchen, and through the open door we can see the sitting room dining table, around which Mark, Robert and Tracy are sat in conversation. Many directors would have shot it the other way round, having Becky in the background. Bob's choice keeps her very much part of the action; as the sound we hear is of the conversation at the dining table, the other characters are never in danger of becoming peripheral, even for a moment. At the same time, it also neatly establishes the layout of the flat.
Bob Spiers was also partly responsible for something else which became synonymous with the series. He had previously worked with the composers Kenny Craddock and Colin Gibson, and, at his suggestion, they were brought onboard to provide the music. Although it's hard to imagine Joking Apart without their contribution, the pilot episode lacks incidental music of any description - another consequence of working on a tight budget.
A further area of marked improvement is the lighting in the series. There are, of course, some scenes which were borrowed from the pilot where the shadows are quite intrusive. The scene where Mark meets Becky is a prime example.
The pilot closes with Chris Rea's original version of Fool (if you think it's over) to accompany the credits.
HOW THE SCRIPT DIFFERS
There are only a handful of changes to the script in the entire episode, the first of which occurs in Mark's third monologue. "God," I said, "What's the big idea with this marriage thing? Do you hate men or something? Why do you hate men so much?" This is tighter in the series version with the omission of the second question.
The next difference is in the scene where Mark meets Becky. This is one of the sequences that was not re-shot for the series, but it has been edited slightly differently. Two lines are cut out of the series, although an additional one is inserted, thus:
The woman walks away in response to Mark's crass one-liner.
Mark: I think she likes me!
PILOT ONLY - Man: It may be something to do with the fact that you just turned up at her father's funeral in half a suit!
PILOT ONLY - Mark: Well, Hell, it wasn't both parents!
SERIES ONLY - Mark: (As he turns away) See you....Okay?
Becky: (Walking over) Hi. Becky Johnson....
It is noticeable that the re-edit for the series is visually better because the position of Mark's head is the same in both the close-up and wide shot, and this may be the reason for the change. Paul Rainbow played the role of the man, but because his only line of dialogue was cut, effectively reducing his role to that of an extra, he is not credited for episode one.
There are two changes to the bedroom scene. In the pilot, after Becky says, "No, but you can have sex with me", there are some extra lines that didn't make it to the series, although they encompass a theme touched on elsewhere:
Becky: When you proposed, you never said it would be twice!
Mark: I thought you might get to like it once you'd agreed to try it without a general anaesthetic.
Becky: Have I tried it without an anaesthetic?
A chunk of dialogue has also been lifted from the same scene in the pilot and with the addition of a couple of lines, becomes a brand new scene in the series. This is the exchange where Mark tells Becky how he finds couples of their own age boring and lists the tedious things they tend to come out with. This restructuring places the dialogue immediately before the dinner party, where the truth of Mark's assertion is soon confirmed, and elegantly sets up that scene.
One of biggest differences is to the sequence where Robert and Tracy leave after the dinner party. In the series, it is rather more comprehensively staged. Only the last three lines of this sequence appear in the pilot:
Tracy: Thank-you so much; it was lovely.
Robert: Thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Tracy: And you be careful with that hand, Mark. A scald can be quite serious.
Mark: My wife's fault, entirely - she's got to look where she's breathing!
Becky: (Laughs to cover her embarrassment) It was an accident....
Robert: (After an awkward pause) Well.... Must be off....
Robert and Tracy turn to leave, but Tracy turns back as the door is about to close.
Tracy: Oh, one thing, Mark.... In your play, why did the woman fall down the steps....? That was in yours, wasn't it? Only we kept flicking over.
Mark: Yes, that was in mine. She fell down the steps because it was funny.
Tracy: (With a nervous laugh) Oh, I didn't realise....! But then I've never been in a comedy.
Mark: Oh, you will be....!
Robert: Goodnight, then.
Tracy: Goodnight. It was lovely.
Although the last three lines are common to both shows, they are staged differently: in the series, the sequence ends with Becky closing the door of the flat; in the pilot, the lift doors close on Robert and Tracy.
In contrast, when the scene continues, four lines that appeared in the pilot have been cut. After Becky tells Mark, "You are conceited, smug, cruel and a complete snob!" and he replies, "Yeah, talk about me - it's turning me on....", the dialogue originally continued:
Becky: I mean, they're such a nice couple.
Mark: I like Tracy. I really like her.
Becky: No, you find her fascinating; that's not the same thing.
Mark: Which is the one where I get the hot water?
In the scene in the kitchen where the cracks in the marriage become most obvious, some dialogue has been cut. This comes after Mark says that Tracy has told him that Becky doesn't, in fact, go round to her house on Friday nights as she claims, to which Becky retorts that Tracy wouldn't say that, and besides, Mark crosses the street to avoid speaking to her. The series continues with a simple "Got you thinking though, didn't I?" from Mark, and replaces the following:
Mark: Well, is it any wonder? The last time I saw her, she did half-an-hour on how she was just about to go away on holiday. I mean, she even gave me her house key so that I could keep her toilets flushed!
Becky: Who started all that nonsense?
Mark: I didn't tell her to write that apology note to the water authority!
Becky: You put the idea in her head.
Mark: I told her I was just making it all up, and she thought I was joking!
It's not hard to see why this was changed. Although it neatly made reference to a gag at the dinner party, it detracted from the more important discussion of their marriage problems.
The top of the episode's finale also gets a gentle revision. Here's the pilot version, which begins in the sitting room:
Mark: (To all the party guests) Right, now, wherever you are, just keep well out of sight. We don't know where she's going to go first. Okay? Tracy - good loud shout when you hear her coming!
Tracy: (From the window) She’s coming! She’s coming!
Mark: (Loudly) Okay, go for it!
Everyone starts to hide.
Tracy: Was that loud enough?
Mark: Sorry, everyone, sorry. False alarm. She’s not coming.
Tracy: She is.
Tracy: I mean, she had to park her car right at the top of the street.
Mark: (Loudly) Dive, dive, dive!
Everyone starts to hide again.
Mark: Tracy, into the hall cupboard!
Now compare that with how it finished up in the series:
Mark opens the door of the flat to reveal Robert outside.
Robert: Am I late?
Mark: Yes! She’ll be here any moment – come on!
Robert enters the hall and Mark closes the door.
Robert: That Tadwell Road! Red lights all the way….
Mark: Well, never mind that!
Robert: Where’s Tracy?
Tracy enters the hall fom the sitting room.
Tracy: I’m waiting at the sitting room window, so I can shout through the moment I see Becky.
Mark stares at her as if to say she’s an idiot.
Tracy: (Pause, then with realisation) Ooops!
Tracy runs back to the window.
Mark: Now, Robert, you and Tracy will be waiting in the hall cupboard, alright?
Robert: (As Mark guides him into the cupboard) Hall cupboard….Fine…!
Mark shuts him in the cupboard.
Mark: (Loudly) Okay, everybody else: now, everyone know where they’re hiding?
All guests: Yes.
Mark: Right, now remember, wherever you are, keep well out of sight. We don't know where she'll go first. Okay? Tracy - good loud shout when you hear her coming!
Tracy: (From the window) She’s coming! She’s coming!
Mark: Okay, go for it!
Everyone starts to hide.
Mark: Tracy, into the hall cupboard!
In both the pilot and the re-shot version, the performances of the cast are consistently engaging and, for the most part, there is little to choose between the two. However, Mark's monologues are undoubtedly not helped by the way they were shot for the pilot.
It would also be fair to say that in the big finale where Becky tells Mark she wants a divorce, he only comes across as someone deserving of our sympathy in the series version. When he cracks his one liners it seems to be just a defence mechanism and it certainly doesn't disguise his devastation. After Becky has gone, he is a broken man. Contrast all this with the pilot where, after the initial shock of Becky wanting a divorce, he just has an air of arrogance. He seems more concerned about being witty than the potential loss of his wife. Perhaps this is meant to show that he doesn't really believe it's over? Whatever the reason, it just leaves us thinking, who can blame Becky? Whilst both interpretations of this scene work, the pilot version is best suited to a one-off. The audience really needed to be left liking Mark if the show was to sustain, and possibly only the series version achieves that.
In summary, good though the pilot undoubtedly was (it did secure a series commission, after all) there can be no doubt that the series benefited enormously from the remake.