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Lee Pressman is an inventor of magical stories. His incredible career has taken him on fantastical journeys via train, fire truck and farm tractor. His words have graced many unforgettable projects like “Thomas and Friends,” “Fireman Sam,” “Angelina Ballerina, “Dennis and Gnasher, “Shaun the Sheep,” and two beloved TV classics, “Rainbow” and “Play Away.” He is the Co-creator and writer of T-Bag and the writer and producer of “The Tomorrow People.”  

 

What’s most important in writing for kids’ TV shows? To be funny or to be interesting?

Hmmm. I’m not sure I can answer that one. Obviously every script I write I hope will be interesting, whether it be a gritty drama, a scary thriller, a sci fi fantasy or a pre school story. But whatever the project (because I do love funny stuff) I will try to see the humorous side in a given situation and make it as funny as I can. I can’t think of any script I’ve written (and that includes a sixty minute radio drama about the murderer Doctor Crippen) that didn’t have a funny moment somewhere along the way.

But it’s difficult to say which is more important – I guess if I had to choose I’d say make it interesting first – great characters, an intriguing story, good structure – and if you are predisposed to humour it should follow naturally.

When you create scenes, are you “hearing” it with your own experienced writer ears, or are you always aware of the audience that will eventually watch the show?

To be perfectly honest, although 95% of my work is in children’s TV, I think I’m really writing it for myself. If it amuses and entertains me I hope it might amuse and entertain the audience. I’m certainly not writing just for kids – every project I’ve worked on I hope will appeal to parents, grandparents and any other adults who are watching the show with their children. In the pre school show I’ve been working on for the last year (Q Pootle 5) we have some very specific and sophisticated allusions to 2001 A Space Odyssey, Jaws, and even Waiting For Godot! 

Of course I’m aware that the series is designed for the under fives, but I’m hoping it will be appreciated by all ages.

Have you used incidents from your own childhood when writing?

I have a really bad memory and my sisters are incredulous when I can’t remember incidents that happened to us when we were children. So the answer is pretty much no.

What is the most gratifying aspect of your profession?

I’ve been lucky to work with some amazingly talented people along the way. Seeing them transform a pile of pages of script into a fully fleshed creation involving actors, design, music and so on is extremely gratifying. When it all comes together (which it often doesn’t) it’s fabulous to think back on how a scrappy little idea has eventually become a an entertaining piece of work that (hopefully) people might enjoy for many years to come.

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Do you prefer to work on established properties or are you more eager to create something brand new?

I’m pretty sure that every writer would like to create something brand new. I’ve been lucky enough over the years to create several long running series, and, for a while, I never needed to work on established shows. But it’s tough out there pitching and pitching and almost selling a series, then having the disappointment of seeing it all come crashing down around your ears. So I’ve actually come to love working on shows I didn’t create – some long running properties (Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam, Angelina Ballerina) and others where I was involved from the start (Shaun the Sheep, Rastamouse, The Secret Show). 

With the explosion of channels and outlets for kids’ programming, is the quality of the shows rising or falling?

Well there’s certainly a lot of poor shows out there. But hasn’t that always been the case? Ever since John Logie Baird legged it down to the patent office, television has always been a mixed bag. All I know is there are also some glorious, wonderful, exciting new shows being produced around the world. So I guess the explosion of channels probably mirrors the birth of television itself and is cranking out the good, the bad and the gruesome.

Anything interesting ahead for you career-wise?

I’ve spent the most satisfying (and fun) year developing Q Pootle 5, based on a children’s book by Nick Butterworth. It’s very rare when everything comes together, but this really was (is) a dream project. The animation company, Blue Zoo, have produced the most stunning design. The composer, David Schweitzer, has done an incredible job on the music. The cast are hilarious. The stories are strong. And it was all pulled together by Nick’s son, Ben, who is out there now wowing them at MIP. The show is doing really well on the BBC and naturally we’re hoping for a recommission.

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