Thoughts on the state of programme making in the UK today – from some of the winners of the Televisual Bulldog Awards 2015

The Televisual Bulldog Awards take place this month (25th June), with a celebration dinner for the winners at The Hospital Club.  Ahead of the Awards, Televisual canvassed some of the winners – who were unveiled in last month’s issue – for their thoughts on the state of programme making in the UK today. 

We wanted to hear from the UK’s leading producers and directors about the key trends in TV: what they feel audiences are responding to and will respond to in the coming year, and what programme makers should be thinking about if they want to succeed – and perhaps win a Bulldog next year.

Their responses throw up a wealth of ideas and suggestions. There’s an awareness that much of television is simply concerned with exploring well trodden “territories.” Against this, there are opportunities to stand out for real stories which compel and engage. These, of course, take time – and money – at a time when broadcaster budgets don’t always allow such a luxury.

Drama writers Jack and Harry Williams say the three fundamentals always stay the same: “It’s all about good stories, compelling characters and primal emotions that people can connect with.”

This is true in factual features too, where there is also a strong emphasis on authenticity. For Love Productions creative director Richard McKerrow, it’s vital “to place the emphasis on authentic experiences and individuals who are so captivated and passionate about what they are doing that they forget the cameras are there.”

Meanwhile, “joyous entertainment” is the theme for BBC controller of entertainment and events Katie Taylor, who says audiences are tiring of cynical entertainment “where the heavy hand of the producer is at play.” She uses the “authentic” word too, saying viewers like to see real endeavor paying off.

The challenges and opportunities thrown up by new technology also feature strongly in our award winners’ thinking. Wimbledon exec producer Paul Davies points out that multiplatform delivery is crucial to attract the modern consumer, particularly the younger audience. New streaming platforms are also affecting the way that drama is written. As dramas get more serialised, “the big end-of-episode hook is no longer reserved for your series finale,” point out Jack and Harry Williams. Factual producers, meanwhile, are aware they must compete against the complexities of long form drama for viewers attention. So, says 24 Hours in Police Custody exec producer Simon Ford, viewers expect documentary makers to tell their stories in sophisticated and intelligent ways.

Richard McKerrow
Creative director, Love Productions
The Great British Bake Off 
Factual features continues to be one of the most exciting genres on British TV and remains a world leader in terms of creativity in popular TV. Wherever it places the emphasis on authentic experiences and individuals who are so captivated and passionate about what they are doing that they forget the cameras are there, then this will continue to be the case.  As long as it’s about placing people within the exciting frame of a clear simple format in a new space or special access to an undiscovered world, then audiences will continue to engage.

Paul Davies

Executive Producer, BBC Sport
There are very few sporting occasions that aren’t available to watch live these days. Core TV coverage remains king, but you don’t plan any major event without considering multi-platform opportunities. While it’s crucial not to alienate your traditional audience, you ignore the demands of the modern consumer at your peril. Delivery to tablet, mobile and via social media has opened up new opportunities, expanding live audiences and appealing to a younger audience. Embrace this digital revolution but protect the core values of OB production, an art form where we must always keep our eye on the ball!

Simon Ford
Executive producer, The Garden
24 Hours in Police Custody
With so much factual television simply exploring (and re exploring) familiar "territories," the people who watch and love documentaries reward those films which dig out real stories that really compel and engage them. They absolutely expect programme makers like us to tell these stories in sophisticated and intelligent  ways. After all we are increasingly competing with the satisfying complexities of modern long form drama when we ask for the attention of viewers.

Graham Stuart
Exec producer, So Television

The Graham Norton Show
The Laws of Talk Shows were written on tablets of South Californian stone many years ago. They decreed that format was sacrosanct and hosts should not change. Then came a time when Jimmy Fallon turned the Tonight Show into an all-singing, all-dancing, game-playing party. And Jimmy Kimmel forgot Old Media and concentrated on the New. And Hollywood stars realised that sitting three on a red couch with a charming Irishman was actually fun. And David Letterman bowed out and James Corden swept into the Late Night universe. Now anything is possible. Welcome to Talk Year Zero. Good luck everyone.

Katie Taylor
BBC controller of entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly shines through for audiences as it encapsulates joyous entertainment. Audiences are tiring of cynical entertainment where the heavy hand of the producer is at play. It’s a pure format that is enhanced every year, but without format gimmicks. It’s authentic, showing that real endeavour pays off and the performers genuinely care about what will come out of the Judges’ mouths. It’s inclusive and much like Britain’s Got Talent, it’s become event TV that my 9 year old niece and my 80 year old Auntie will watch and engage with on different levels.

Henry Singer
Director, Sandpaper Films
Baby P: The Untold Story
The Baby P film was the first feature length documentary on prime time on BBC1 in many years.  It created a real sensation, and I think as a result of that BBC1 — and I think some of the other channels — will be looking for some really big films, whether they’re investigative or not.  Channels throw the term ‘reputational singles’ around lot, but whereas in the past I think that was mostly talk, now there’s some real interest in them. But independent producers should see them as ‘reputational’ as well: budgets will remain very, very tight. 

Jack and Harry Williams
The Missing
Streaming and catch-up are becoming ever more common, and the way we watch TV is reflected in the content as dramas continue to get more serialised – the big end-of-episode hook is no longer reserved for your series finale. With bigger TVs and more international opportunities, the line between TV and film gets ever more blurred as high-end television drama now attracts movie stars and incredible crews. But the fundamentals remain the same – it’s all about good stories, compelling characters and primal emotions that people can connect with.

Tim Dams

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