Tony Garnett’s new BBC2 drama about a dot.com start-up comes complete with a website that plays an integral part in the action.
Net news – Jason Deans: The Guardian Monday August 28, 2000
Tony Garnett, the godfather of British television drama, has a knack for producing work that taps into the spirit of the times. From the ground-breaking 1960s social realism of Cathy Come Home to This Life, with its cast of mid-1990s twentysomethings more into partying than politics, Garnett has been closely associated with era-defining drama.
Now, just as viewers are coming to terms with how traditional TV can be enhanced by the internet, Garnett’s company, World Productions, is putting the finishing touches to a new BBC2 drama with a website designed to play an integral part in an interactive viewing experience. Attachments, which is due to debut on BBC 2 next month, is – appropriately enough – set in a fictional dot.com start-up. The accompanying website will carry content that changes and develops to mirror events in the 10-part TV series.
The controller of BBC2, Jane Root, says that when she and Garnett began discussing a follow-up to his previous series, The Cops, he had in mind from the outset a TV drama about people working in an internet-related environment, with a significant interactive element. (Garnett maintained his customary reticence and was not available to discuss the new show.)
“To have Tony, one of the major TV drama figures of our generation, working on this is quite a coming-of-age moment,” Root declares. “There’s something in common with what happened when the first lightweight 16mm cameras came out and location filming became easier. It provides the chance to create a different visual language.”
Attachments centres on the efforts of Mike and his wife Luce to transform his new music website, seethru.co.uk, from a bedroom hobby into a viable internet content business offering news, reviews and gossip. Frazzled dot.com executives will recognise the couple’s struggle to secure venture capital funding without having to give away too much control of their fledgling company.
Those lower down the new economy food chain will be able to identify with an internet start-up office divided along content writer versus techie versus programmer versus designer social faultlines. They will also recognise the long periods idled away playing computer games and emailing mates, punctuated by short bursts of frenzied, work-through-the-night activity as deadlines loom.
Root is keen to emphasise that the programme has a universal focus on people and relationships in the modern workplace and is not an obscure tale about webheads. She quotes recent research suggesting that the office is now the place where most people meet their life partner. There is also a sense of Attachments being the older sibling of This Life, with central characters moving beyond the mad-for-it hedonism of their early 20s and making serious decisions about their lives and careers.
Fans of Garnett’s recent BBC2 work, such as This Life and The Cops, will spot plenty of familiar touches. The young and largely unknown cast, for starters. Attachments dispenses with the handheld documentary style of The Cops, but is fast-paced and has similarly been shot using a single camera. There is also an attention-grabbing opening scene, with sex and full-frontal male nudity. On a skateboard.
However, providing an interactive element is a completely new departure for Garnett. He has brought together an in-house web production team, led by technical advisers Paul Lakin and David McCandless, which is working closely with the Attachments TV programme-makers at World. Root says that the idea is for the website to feel as though it has been created by the fictional characters from the drama.
Seethru.co.uk is being built to operate as a stand-alone content website, with all the features anyone who comes across it while surfing the net and has never seen the TV show would expect. But Attachments fans will be able to visit the site and look at articles that feature in the unfolding TV drama, in many cases getting to read something that is only mentioned or seen in passing. They can email characters from the drama and listen to the music of real unsigned artists through seethru.co.uk.
The fictional seethru office is also fitted with webcams, allowing viewers to have another look at footage from the show as well as extra material not seen on TV. Net users will be able to check out footage relating to the cliffhanger ending to the first episode, for instance, which takes place in the office toilet.
The seethru site will go live when the first episode goes out, with the standards waxing and waning after that according to the fortunes of the fictional web business. So at the outset users will log on to the amateurish site that Mike has been running from his bedroom. The internet offering will get a more professional feel when funding is secured in the drama, but the quality will also deteriorate again at times of crisis during the series.
Root stresses that Attachments is intended to work as a stand-alone TV show, with the viewing audience still the primary focus. But it has also been created to appeal to “v-users” – people who experience the drama through their PC screens. Anything that provokes rows or controversy in the drama will disappear from the seethru site at the exact same moment as it is fictionally deleted, according to Root.
“There will be lots of people watching and arguing about things – stuff that’s on the webcams, that people have written – who can go and see it on the internet after the show,” she says. “I hope people who contact the site will be able to have a role on it.”
Attachments was commissioned last year, before the internet start-up boom – and the headline-grabbing trend for making people overnight dot.com millionaires – reached its surreal, get-rich-quick peak and turned into a crash.
But Root is still confident that Garnett has not for once missed the boat. She has already commissioned a second 10-part run of Attachments.
“I rather like the fact that it all started to go wrong. It’s more dramatic,” she says. “If people were still effortlessly becoming internet millionaires, there would be less dramatic potential. There is now more awareness of the pressures and the possibility of failure – that’s more potent.”
Recognise anybody from your new media office?
Mike (Justin Pierre): seethru.co.uk founder. One-time musician and DJ turned net evangelist. Always looks on the bright side.
Luce (Claudia Harrison): Married to Mike. Gives up publishing career to become seethru’s management fixer. Forever worrying over money and unsigned contracts.
Jake (David Walliams): Site designer. Perfectionist and prima donna, constantly at war with techie and programmer.
Sophie (Amanda Ryan): Lesbian content-manager with a very well developed sense of her writing ability. Nobody messes with her words.
Will (William Gaminara): Smooth MBA appointed by venture capitalists to babysit their investment.
Yvonne (Sally Rogers): Pregnant thirtysomething sales manager. Practical and manipulative.
Reece (William Beck): Programmer. Incorrigible shagger with a small son, who spends his time plotting ways to wind up Jake and Sophie.
Brandon (Iddo Goldberg): Brilliant techie über-nerd. Shy and sexually frustrated. Skateboards naked round the office after the others have left.
Zoe (Romola Garai): Enthusiastic home counties ingénue who joins seethru on work experience