Channel 5 has announced plans to ramp up its stripped event history programme offering with four new specialist factual series.

Titles include Tsunami, which delves into unexplored details of the 2004 natural disaster, Costa Concordia, which focuses on one of the worst maritime disasters in living memory, in addition to World War II focused documentaries Countdown to War and The Great Escape.

All of the series will air in 2021, with episodes shown on consecutive days of the week.

Channel 5 says the bolstered slate builds upon sustained interest for historical stripped event programming on broadcasteer.

In particular The Great Plague, presented by Xand van Tulleken, Raksha Dave and John Sergeant, drew a consolidated audience of 2.3m in 2020. Meanwhile Pompeii’s Final Hours: New Evidence, fronted by Bettany Hughes, Raksha Dave and John Sergeant, achieved 1.7m viewers in 2018. Both series were produced by Voltage who have now been commissioned to produce Tsunami and Countdown to War.

Channel 5 provided the following details of the new series:

Tsunami (3 x 60’), will follow the natural disaster that struck shorelines across Southeast Asia on Boxing Day in 2004, claiming 230,000 lives, including 149 Brits. The trilogy will use science to explain how one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded gave rise to the deadliest tsunami in history, with each episode tracking the course of its devastating impact and lasting aftermath for survivors, hour-by-hour.

Countdown to War (3 x 60’), will explore the dramatic events that took place in the three days leading to World War II, beginning with the moment that Germany invaded Poland on 1st September 1939. The series will take a forensic look at these 72 hours, following Chamberlain’s fraught attempts at peace and the last minute plans and preparations made by civilians and military alike as the clocked ticked ever closer to war.

Costa Concordia (2 x 60’) will be produced by ITN Productions in what will also be their first history strip for Channel 5. Combining exclusive first-person testimony from survivors, rescuers and victims’ families, with rarely seen footage, graphical reconstruction and expert insight, these programmes will tell the astonishing story of what happened on the night the Costa Concordia sank in forensic detail. The series will raise some key questions including how did the Costa Concordia sink? Was this a tragedy waiting to happen? And could it happen again?.

Viacom International Studios (VIS) is set to produce The Great Escape (3 x 60’), marking the studio’s first history strip for Channel 5. A gripping series that recounts the iconic Second World War prison escape, scenes will be brought to life by atmospheric reconstruction, archive footage and intimate anecdotes from relatives of those who were there. Viewers will watch the secret planning, tunnel-building and eventual escape unfold through the eyes of key characters.

“As we continue to broaden our original factual slate, our stripped event history programming will play an increasingly key role in the primetime schedule. This box set approach to narrative history played over three nights resonates really well with our viewers,” Lucy Willis, Commissioning Editor, Channel 5 said. “Our history strips have performed well to date with their strong emphasis on dramatic unfolding storytelling and I hope these new commissions, with their deep dive into well-known historical stories, will keep viewers hooked in the same way that a new drama series would.”

Countdown to War and Tsunami have been commissioned by Willis for Channel 5, The Great Escape by Greg Barnett and Costa Concordia by Dan Louw.


Jon Creamer

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