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Factual Festival: what fact ent commissioners want

Factual Festival: what fact ent commissioners want
Tim Dams
24 October 2012

Four of the UK’s leading factual entertainment commissioners set out their programming needs at Televisual’s Factual Festival today.


Alison Kirkham, the commissioning editor for features and formats at the BBC, said she was after “low cost hours” for BBC2 at 8pm, perhaps shows that were presented by “passionate experts” like Alex Polizzi and Brian Cox or “talent with attitude” like the Hairy Bikers. “Knowledge is key – they have to be passionate communicaters who talk to viewers at eye level.”


She explained that BBC1 was the “most under pitched” channel at the BBC and was difficult to find the right ideas for because it is so broad in appeal. “It’s challenging. We really need ideas for 8pm and 9pm on BBC1, and have a lot of money still to spend next year,” said Kirkham.


She explained that “we really do not get pitched enough formats” for 8pm on BBC1.  She cited DIY SOS: The Big Build which she said had an obvious sense of scale, changed somebody’s life, played out and resolved over an hour, and relied on a familiar cast of faces, not just presenter Nick Knowles.  Crucially, it had humour, emotion, warmth and humanity. 


Also at 8pm, she said she was after “concealed magazine programs”, citing  Countryfile, Coast and Food Inspectors. “All need clarity of focus at the top – Coast is about Great Britain, Food Inspectors is about food and hygiene.”


9pm on BBC1, by contrast, was about “scale and treats” and shows that are “rammed with great content” like Who Do You Think You Are? and events like Test the Nation.


Closed episodes, strong formats, and celebrities are key criteria at 9pm, while “relevance and authority” is key.


Michelle Kurland, Sky’s head of factual entertainment, also stressed the importance of well known talent being attached to programme ideas, citing shows such as Styled to Rock, presented by Rihanna. 


“Talent is quite important to Sky – the content has to feel it has got big names in it, because it is quite difficult for us to grow talent.”


She added that it was important for shows on Sky One to feel authentic and real, and that audiences don’t feel they are being manipulated. 


Sky Living, meanwhile “is going through a huge change – it’s a blank sheet, not so pink and girly and bitchy.”


She urged indies to approach Sky with a short description of programme ideas, rather than lengthy proposals over many pages. “If you have an idea, we’re very happy for you to come with just a billing. We will help you on how to tell that idea.”


“Whatever it is, just bring a good story,” said Kurland. “We love a hint of mischief, especially on Sky One, which is upbeat, fun to watch. It’s not worthy. I keep getting pitched things about communities helping each other…but how can we do that in in a way that is fun to watch?”


Liam Humphreys, head of factual entertainment at C4, said that he would encourage indies to think of new ideas for on existing onscreen talent like Mary Portas, Heston Blumenthal and Kevin McCloud.


He also stressed that C4 is looking to develop new talent, underlining the need for “charismatic experts.”


Humphreys said he also had 150 hours of popular formats and documentaries to commission next year, shows that did not necessarily need presenters, like The Undateables, Undercover Boss and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.


There is also a need for mainstream features “that have purpose and are contemporary”, citing the upcoming series about gadgets presented by Stephen Fry.


Overall, ideas for C4 need a sense of mischief, feel entertaining and provocative.


Asked what show he would like to commission tomorrow, he said would love a “big reality event”, citing recent C4’s Plane Crash.


ITV commissioning editor daytime and factual Diana Howie said the channel is looking for half hour shows at 8pm and hour long programmes at 9pm.


“ITV is a commercial channel, very mainstream and we need to attract large audiences,” she said.


She said 8pm shows had to stress the entertainment side of factual, while 9pm is a huge challenge. At 9pm shows have to be as mainstream as possible and talent – like Ray Mears, Alan Titchmarsh and Caroline Quentin – is important.  Howie stressed that ITV factual was about “aspiration and authenticity” and that presenters had to be credible and authentic.


She cited Paul O’Grady presented For the Love of Dogs as a “natural pairing” of talent and subject matter.” We had been offered ideas about dogs so many times, but no one had come at it from right angle before.”

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