Terminator sitcoms and celebrity Shetland Pony racing: our writers' lockdown TV pitches

From electricity-deficient mob dramas to ‘Gardeners’ World on acid’, here are the shows dreamt up during our excess of spare time

Feeling a Little Horse

Ponying up for charity
We’ve had The Jump. We’ve heard the agonising slap of flab on drink in Splash! Celebs have proven time and again that they are willing to risk everything – injury, reputation, the privilege of being able to say: “I have never soiled myself on television” – if their agent suggests it would be beneficial to them not being dropped. So why not take this to its logical extreme: a gruelling, John O’Groats-to-Land’s End race … on Shetland ponies. The loser (almost certainly a weeping Timmy Mallett) then has to donate 50 grand of their own dwindling reserves to the other slebs’ charities. Drama, stakes, life-affirming derring-do, tiny adorwable wittle clompy-clomps: yes, that’s right, this show does have it all. Luke Holland

Where the Hell Is Amy?

Sunday nights are about to get four times more miserable
Nicola Walker – she of the saddest eyes on primetime television – was born to be in a morose yet compelling detective show where the troubled lead copper gets far too involved with a murder case as a neon sign of the words “personal life in tatters” flashes above her head. As was Anna Friel. As was Sarah Lancashire. Where the Hell Is Amy? finds all three working together, battling hangovers and horizontal, out-of-London rain to solve a disturbing mystery: where the hell is their missing colleague and fourth horsewoman of sombre crime dramas, Amy, played by Suranne Jones? Hannah J Davies

What’s Next

Covid was just the start
As lockdown ends, let’s keep the miserable national mood going with What’s Next, an unnecessarily detailed exploration of all the other horrible fates likely to befall humanity in the coming years. Now that bird flu can be transmitted to humans, let’s watch a photorealistic simulation of it tearing through humanity in a pandemic so severe it makes Covid look like the sniffles. What if the Yellowstone supervolcano went off, destroying crops and killing billions? Would you watch that? The news just said that we’re overdue a magnetic field reversal, and the last one of those killed off all the cavemen. Could we explore that in such upsettingly plausible detail that none of us will ever manage another wink of sleep ever again? To be narrated by deepfake audio produced from Donald Pleasence’s voiceover in terrifying 70s public education film The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water. Stuart Heritage

You Are Columbo™

Return of the mac
Using immersive POV camerawork and Bandersnatch-style branching narrative storytelling, this daring reboot puts you in the scuffed shoes of TV’s finest and most rumpled homicide detective. Each episode requires the viewer to badger an increasingly exasperated guest murderer (eg William Shatner, Melissa McCarthy, Ice-T) with meandering questions and unexpected asides about Mrs Columbo until they eventually crack and confess. For the A-lister, it’s a flashy opportunity to create a compelling villain via a solo acting masterclass; for the viewer, it’s extended face-time with a megastar. Just keep selecting that Just One More Thing option (and if you really fancy Jon Hamm or whatever, maybe you choose to let them get away with it). Graeme Virtue

Cyberdyne Systems, model L-O-L.
Cyberdyne Systems, model L-O-L. Illustration: Toby Triumph

Everybody Loves Terminator

Come with him if you want to laugh
Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his role as the decommissioned T-800 from 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate. John Connor is dead and Skynet no longer exists. Unable to secure further work in the terminating industry, T-800 – now known as Carl – lives with a human family and works as a curtain salesman. Laugh along with this Modern Family-style sitcom – co-starring Patricia Heaton as Mrs Terminator – as Carl the lovable T-800 can’t help accidentally terminating everything he lays his eyes on, from the postman to the fridge to the cat. Hasta la vista, baby, he’ll be back – same time, next week. Rich Pelley


Out of the light and into the darkness
Everyone goes mad for a drama set in the recent past – see Mad Men, The Serpent and that boring Dominic West one about 50s news presenters that critics pretended to like – but I’m not sure there’s been a series set during the “three-day week”, that grim early 70s period of energy shortages and sudden blackouts. In fairness, that might be because for long stretches it would be too dimly lit to actually be able to see anything on screen – but, hey, let’s turn that into a virtue. In gritty thriller Nightfall (an HBO/BBC co-production, I’m thinking, but they’d better cough up a decent budget or I’m sodding off to Netflix), James Norton’s rookie home counties detective is transplanted to the mean streets of Moss Side, where he is tasked with hunting down a gang of organised criminals who, taking advantage of the tumult of the times, work exclusively in the dark. It’s a cross between Red Riding and ’71, with the real villain obviously being society itself, yadda, yadda yadda … although Shaun Ryder as Smiler makes a surprisingly menacing Mancunian mob boss. Gwilym Mumford

Pugs: the Movie

Keep trying to make fetch happen
Lockdown has finally granted me the time to work on my magnum opus: an idea so good it will pay for me and my co-writer/boyfriend to spend the rest of our days drinking cocktails on the beach. So: scrappy mongrel Rufus (voiced by Seth Rogen) is friends with beautiful but haughty pug Poppy (Emma Stone). One day Poppy is talent-spotted and takes part in the local dog show – along with her brother, aspiring rapper Lil Pug (Kevin Hart). As Poppy becomes increasingly famous, she loses touch with her roots, but valuable lessons are learned along the way, via the medium of pugs. Potential investors, if you’re reading this, just think of the merch possibilities. The mai tais are on you. Kathryn Bromwich

Killing Time

They’ll do anything for content
Dotty (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Pip (Emerald Fennell) have built a following of millions of true crime-obsessed women with their hit podcast OMG What a Killer Babes!, but after three years they start running out of murders to cover. Ted Bundy? Heard it a thousand times. The Happy Face Killer? Old news! With their 65-date live tour, Hello Fresh adverts and book deal at risk, they do the only thing they can: start creating their own content by becoming serial killers. Because they’re posh, white and female, the police don’t suspect a thing, leaving them free to slay strangers, rivals and the occasional ex-boyfriend. They’re really not OK, hun! Issy Sampson

Don’t play Dom with me ... Timothée Chalamet as Cummings.
Don’t play Dom with me ... Timothée Chalamet as Cummings. Illustration: Toby Triumph

Dominic Cummings in the Rose Garden

It’s Gardeners’ World … on acid
Relive the drama and passion of 2020’s most explosive political press conference in 3D. This three-hour extravaganza stars Timothée Chalamet in moderate prosthetics as the disgraced senior aide to prime minister Boris Johnson, who attempts to win over the hearts of a nation with a series of charming Alan Bennett-esque monologues about fatherhood and waning eyesight. Elisabeth Moss co-stars as Small Jug of Water on Table, while Olivia Colman soars as Absolutely Fuming Reporter Number 3 and Claes Bang is a barnstorming Fuzzy Boom Mic. Monty Don: floral designer-slash-intimacy coordinator. Danny Boyle directs. Harriet Gibsone

The Buffet

She might be The Chosen One, but can she survive brunch?
At an exclusive buffet brunch for super-fans with the stars of a 1990s TV show about a vampire slayer and her friends, Sarah Michelle Gellar has enough on her plate dealing with the bizarre requests of her rabid fans and the desperation of her down-on-their-luck former co-stars. But when the event is crashed by an actual, real-life vampire, who has mistaken the show for reality and is seeking revenge for his fallen comrades, she is suddenly forced to step in to the shoes of a role she’s desperate to leave behind her. Will Sarah Michelle’s years of on-set training have adequately prepared her for the real thing, or is this slayer about to be slain? Toby Moses

The Date Escape

Unlock a chance at love!
A mash-up of daytime TV dating shows (the easiest sell on the market: there is a limitless supply of horny 24-year-olds willing to slightly embarrass themselves on TV “for a laugh”) and the beloved but not quite so TV-friendly escape room format. Our dater has to work through a series of three escape rooms, in each one aided by a potential date. The intro spins a load of nonsense about how “Science has shown … the longest-lasting relationships … are the ones who use clear communication skills … to work as a team”, or whatever. At the end they get to pick who they want to go on a date with, and we watch them glammed up in a nearby bar saying: “Do you still like me now I’m not handcuffed to a table?” The narrator gets to say arch things about them from the safety of a recording booth, Come Dine With Me-style, and gets paid like clockwork for each of the 2,000 episodes, so naturally I am nominating myself for this role. Joel Golby

60 Minutes of POV Footage of Walking Through Crowds on Busy Streets

Be honest, you’ve missed this
For people who miss a simpler time (ie February 2020) comes this show where the camera plays the point of view of someone grumpily walking through a big crowd to carry out a mundane task. That’s it, that’s the entire show: just footage of walking past people who are much closer than two metres and murmuring: “Sorry, can I just squeeze by?” Episode one follows a person trying to return a disappointing Christmas present to the Oxford Circus branch of John Lewis; episode two is a woman attempting to catch a tram from Manchester Piccadilly on a day United are playing at home; episode three is strolling along a canal in Birmingham near a wall where people keep stopping because they think Banksy’s done a Banksy but actually it’s just boring regular graffiti. Starring Daisy Ridley as the John Lewis cashier, Maxine Peake as a tutting woman on a tram, and Michael Sheen as the brick wall where the “Banksy” was drawn. No tension. No jeopardy. No plot. At one point in episode four a security guard touches the lead on the shoulder and mildly scolds them for trying to use a fire exit. Just pure pre-Covid mundanity. Bliss. Jack Bernhardt


The Guide

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