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Interview: Patrick Holland, Boundless

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25 March 2014

When Patrick Holland took over as md of Boundless in 2012, he inherited some of the biggest factual TV series in Britain: The Apprentice, Grand Designs, Escape to the Country, Great Railway Journies and Four Rooms. It’s a slate that most indie bosses would give their right arm for. But it’s also one that presents huge challenges. 

It’s Holland’s job to keep these long runners fresh, to keep the viewers tuned in – and to keep them onscreen. In this respect, he’s had success – The Apprentice, for example, is now shooting series 10, while Grand Designs is commissioned through until 2016.  Escape to the Country is about to air its 600th edition.

Boundless has achieved the holy grail of indie TV production – a supply of long running series that underpin the business. But, stresses Holland, you can’t take this longevity for granted in the television industry. “The reason they had become such extraordinary real estate was because of the care, skill and creativity that had gone into those series.”

Keeping The Apprentice fresh almost 10 years on, he says, comes down to finding the right team to run it. After series eight, he promoted series editor Cate Hall to exec producer. Huge effort was also put into casting series nine, as well as creating tasks that catch the zeitgeist. He also cites Lord Sugar’s commitment to the series. “Working with him keeps you on your toes. I think we have developed a good relationship.”

Holland has had to balance producing Boundless’ long running slate, though, with a search for more returning features and factual entertainment shows of his own to build up the business further.  In this too, despite hiccups like the poorly received The Intern for Channel 4, Holland has had success. Turnover is up to £27.6m last year, from £23.8m in 2012.

He says there are series in development with Channel 4 and BBC1 which look promising. Other recent series commissions include My Kitchen Rules for Sky Living as well as fledgling format World’s Toughest Jobs for BBC3. This month, BBC1 aired a new specialist factual commission, An Hour to Save Your Life. All, he hopes, might have the potential to turn into long runners.

Holland says the market for high-end factual is vibrant at the moment – albeit hugely competitive.

In particular, it’s very difficult to land a big factual entertainment series. “For the last five years, everyone in British TV has been saying, ‘Where is the next Apprentice’. But no one has come up with it.”

Commissioners, he says, view factual entertainment as “really, really risky,” as there’s great concern that viewers might not buy into a format from the start. That said, Holland thinks that “authenticity” is the big trend in television at the moment. Viewers, he says, want to hear extraordinary, real stories and not to feel boxed in by a strongly formatted show. After all, the big hits of recent times – Gogglebox, Educating Yorkshire or 24 Hours in A&E – are essentially ob docs. To back up his point, Holland cites long runner Grand Designs, exec produced by Fiona Caldwell. Boundless has tried to make the series less formatted, so that it now breathes like a filmic observational documentary. “The build is almost the backdrop to the human story,” he says.

Meanwhile, Holland’s other big challenge has been to create recognition for Boundless. The indie was born in 2011 after parent company Fremantle Media UK broke up its production giant Talkback Thames into five different labels – Boundless (factual), Retort (scripted comedy), Talkback (comedy entertainment), Thames (entertainment) and Newman Street (drama).  Fremantle Media UK CEO Sara Geater’s plan was to emulate indie groups like All3Media or Shed, which have creative, entrepreneurial producers running their own labels in the group while sharing back office functions such as legal, business affairs and press.

Industry talk now centres on whether Fremantle is going to buy All3Media. Holland won’t comment on the issue, but says if it did happen he wouldn’t feel any sense of threat. If anything it would validate the entrepreneurial producer model that now characterises Boundless’s relationship with Fremantle.

In the meantime, Boundless is pushing outwards. For example, it’s branching into specialist factual with shows like An Hour To Save Your Life, BBC1’s Talk to the Animals and BBC2’s Essex Bangers. Holland says traditional factual genres are now blurring to such an extent that a lot of the bigger companies are making specialist factual, which was once the preserve of smaller, niche indies. “What commissioners want now is new ways of telling stories.” And producers like Boundless, reckons Holland, can bring their experience to bear in the genre from big shows like The Apprentice or Grand Designs.

Nevertheless, the ambition at Boundless remains the same, whatever the genre, says Holland. “We want to tell the best factual stories in the best possible way.”

CV
Age 45
Education Newport Free Grammar School, Essex; Emanuel College, Cambridge (Philosophy); Sussex Unversity (Philosophy MA)
Career
Holland’s first job was a trainee researcher at indie TVF, working on Everyman and Equinox films. From there he went to Twenty Twenty to work on Big Story.  He then joined the BBC’s Modern Times as an AP, where Stephen Lambert gave him his first film to make. He went with Lambert to join RDF, directing Looking for Dad, A Very British Murder, The Case of Tony Martin and Faking It. Holland then ran C4’s new talent scheme The Other Side with Charlotte Moore at IWC, and later went to Ricochet as exec producer before becoming director of factual in 2010. He joined Boundless as md in 2012.


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