Exec producer of Be Your Own Boss Tamara Abood tells Jon Creamer about creating a new business show while leaving the spectre of The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den behind
Every commissioner in TV land spends restless nights dreaming of bringing the next Apprentice or Dragons’ Den to the screen. A long-running business format with big entertainment values has long been the pot of gold at the end of the telly rainbow.
But there’s also a danger inherent in the quest for the next big business show. The shows that have come before cast a long shadow. They are formats that have created their own grammar and any series that doesn’t break out of that can end up looking like just a pale imitation.
So Tamara Abood, exec producer of BBC3’s new entrepreneur show, Be Your Own Boss knew the series had to walk a fine line. “This is BBC3’s response to the glut of business shows that are out there,” says Abood. And the drive was "what do we do to mark it out as different and that also reflects the BBC3 demographic?"
But the spectre of business shows past was always there. "What I was really worried about was it could be a show where it’s reduced to a series of sequences of people going to branding experts and marketing experts and all the grammar of what’s needed to produce content," says Abood. So instead, the push was to do "something a bit more nerve wracking" by having "a very light hand on the producer tiller. We actually said ‘let’s see how this plays out a bit’. And the truth is [the budding business people] were so motivated they pulled us along. They brought their own momentum to it."
The action on the show starts with an ‘expo’ that was shot over a bank holiday weekend at the Truman Brewery where 500 budding entrepreneurs were invited to pitch their ideas to Innocent Smoothies co founder, Richard Reed. Each episode then starts with Reed picking three groups or individuals and handing them a few grand in seed capital before sending them off to prove to him that the idea works. The end of each episode then has those entrepreneurs finding out if any or all of them will be winning a much larger investment from Reed.
The format itself was very much guided by the central talent, says Abood. And the difference between a Reed and a Sugar or a dragon provided much of the difference between this show and those that have come before. "In the course of our conversations with him the idea evolved," says Abood. "It reflects who he is and his ethos. That runs through it so it marks itself out." And the lack of the "nasty" edge that typifies most shows is evident. "That’s a massive part of it, it goes back to that thing of who he is. Richard’s blunt at times when he needs to be but it has a very different feel," says Abood. "He even hugs people."
Another break from The Apprentice is the series’ closed episodes, helpful for repeatability on a digital channel, but also a helpful way of following more participants and providing a point of difference. "We’re not going to follow a few people across the series. He wanted to be able to give an opportunity to as many people as he could and we didn’t want to be constrained by only following X number over the series. It makes it a potentially more interesting show because we’re used to the grammar of seeing people eliminated in many of these business shows."
It’s also a show more rooted in reality than others. "It’s very much rooted in the real world. It is an entertainment commission that has all of the fun of the fair, but we are watching young people in their back bedrooms trying to make their business idea work. There’s no house they share, they’re not competing against each other so he can invest in all the businesses or none at all."
In terms of production, avoiding accusations of borrowing from The Apprentice were also important. "There are no helicopter shots in this and skylines we don’t do," says Abood. And the reality parts of the show look "lightly produced so it feels real. Not gritty and hopefully not ugly but real." But the show is an entertainment commission. "For the big set up stuff – the expo and the ending, those things have a look and feel that’s a bit more luxuriant. It still has the high-end gloss factor of a big entertainment show. At the expo we had Steadicams, jibs, Sony PDW 800s and Canon C300s. It was camera-tastic. The overall impression is of a glossy show with some scale. There’s a lot of fun in it."
Be Your Own Boss is a new Twofour/BBC3 business format that has the co-founder of Innocent Smoothies, Richard Reed, picking groups of entrepreneurs to hand a small amount of seed capital to who are then filmed as they go out and prove their business idea can work. Those that make the grade are then in line to pick up major funding from the businessman.
BBC3 controller Zai Bennett and executive editor, entertainment comissioning, Alan Tyler
Tamara Abood, Dan Adamson and Andrew Mackenzie for Twofour
Canon C300s and Sony PDW800s for the set pieces and Canon 305s for the director shot stories
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