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Doc Commissioners / Motoring & Adventure Shows / Brian Cox / Bear Grylls Idris Elba / Nat Geo’s Courteney Monroe / Atlantic’s Anthony Geffen
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Into the Future Several new technologies—from 4K Ultra HD to 3D to virtual reality—are impacting the way factual programming is made and how it’s being consumed.
Ricardo Seguin Guise Publisher Anna Carugati Group Editorial Director Mansha Daswani Editor Kristin Brzoznowski Executive Editor Joanna Padovano Sara Alessi Associate Editors Joel Marino Assistant Editor Victor L. Cuevas Production & Design Director Phyllis Q. Busell Art Director Simon Weaver Online Director Dana Mattison Alberto Rodriguez Sales & Marketing Managers Terry Acunzo Business Affairs Manager
Ricardo Seguin Guise President Anna Carugati Executive VP Mansha Daswani Associate Publisher & VP of Strategic Development TV Real © 2015 WSN INC. 1123 Broadway, #1207 New York, NY 10010 Phone: (212) 924-7620 Fax: (212) 924-6940 Website: www.tvreal.ws
The intricacies presented in science, nature and wildlife programming make them a perfect match for exploration in the highest quality methods available. Their evergreen subjects also beg for future-proofing, so that these programs can continue to be enjoyed for years to come when now-emerging technologies have become mainstream. There was a time when many debated whether HD TV sets would catch on and warrant the costly process of shooting in high definition. Now, the focus has turned to resolutions that are four times the detail of 1080p, with 4K Ultra HD. Japan’s NHK has even started testing out a broadcast system that supports ultrasharp 8K—16 times the resolution of HD. Going beyond 4K and 8K, 3D is shaking up the factual landscape with its promise of total audience immersion. Imagine exploring the vast recesses of the ocean and its marine life in the same detail as swimming through it without ever leaving your home—this is the 3D experience, and advancements in glassesfree technology are making it more viable. Discovery Communications, meanwhile, is jumping into the virtual-reality arena with a new brand, called Discovery VR, and a set of apps and services for iOS and Android devices. Initially, Discovery VR is offering original short-form virtual reality “experiences,” which feature content from various Discovery factual brands. In this issue of TV Real, we hear from leading programmers about their commissioning remits, which will no doubt start to include more 4K and 3D fare as the technology to support these broadcasts becomes more accessible. Another feature explores the latest trends in male-skewed shows. In our Q&As in this issue we hear from National Geographic Channels’ Courteney Monroe, professor and TV presenter Brian Cox, survivalist-TV purveyor Bear Grylls and actor Idris Elba, who shares his experience of making the documentary Mandela, My Dad and Me. TV Real also speaks with Anthony Geffen, whose company, Atlantic Productions, has been marrying technology and factual production to yield a range of unique story telling experiences. —Kristin Brzoznowski
22 THE DOCS ARE IN A survey of leading factual commissioners—including global behemoths and local-market services.
32 BOYS’ CLUB
Motoring and adventure shows, and more, are pulling in droves of male viewers.
National Geographic’s Courteney Monroe
Atlantic Productions’s Anthony Geffen
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A+E Networks Alone / The Curse of Oak Island / Mountain Men In the A+E Networks series Alone, ten hard-core survivalists are deserted in the Vancouver Island wilderness with one mission: stay alive. “We’ve had big success on HISTORY with Alone, which is a very straightforward show of people out in the woods surviving on their own,” says Joel Denton, the company’s managing director of international content sales and partnerships. “It is very immediate, visceral and frightening in some ways.” A+E Networks is also promoting The Curse of Oak Island and Mountain Men. The series Wahlburgers turns the spotlight on brothers Mark, Donnie and Paul Wahlberg as they operate a chain of burger restaurants. Donnie Wahlberg is joined by his famous wife, Jenny McCarthy, in the reality series Donnie Loves Jenny.
“Factual buyers are open to everything at the moment; there’s a trend to experiment and be a bit braver.” —Joel Denton Mountain Men
APT Worldwide Lucky Chow / Many Beautiful Things / Bombs Away: LBJ, Goldwater and the 1964 Campaign That Changed It All The culinary series Lucky Chow is hosted by Danielle Chang, the founder of the LuckyRice food festival, and features many innovative and renowned chefs. “Lucky Chow has great appeal for anyone who enjoys delicious Asian food, and it shows how chefs are keeping its culinary traditions alive,” says Judy Barlow, the VP of international sales at APT Worldwide. The documentary Many Beautiful Things spotlights the life of female artist Lilias Trotter and examines why her name was nearly lost to history. “Many Beautiful Things is inspiring and a delight for the senses,” Barlow says. With the U.S. presidential election taking place in 2016, APT Worldwide believes interest will be high for Bombs Away: LBJ, Goldwater and the 1964 Campaign That Changed It All.
“We have science, nature, lifestyle, music, business, documentaries and travel programs, so we cross many genres and have content suitable for both new and established channels.” —Judy Barlow Many Beautiful Things
ARTE Sales In Search of the Perfect Sportsperson / Jesus and Islam / The Adventurers of Modern Art The documentary In Search of the Perfect Sportsperson delves into the science behind the mental faculties of highperformance athletes. “This original one-off would be a perfect factual companion piece to the 2016 Olympic Games, as well as for any science strands,” says Heidi Fleisher, the head of international sales and catalogue acquisitions at ARTE Sales. The company is also presenting the seven-part series Jesus and Islam and the six-part documentary The Adventurers of Modern Art. The latter combines animation, illustrations and original archives to transport the viewer into Parisian life at the dawn of the 20th century with the likes of Picasso, Matisse and more. Overall, ARTE Sales has more than 4,000 hours of programming to present.
“This year’s catalogue is particularly rich in ambitious series of a timeless nature.” —Heidi Fleisher In Search of the Perfect Sportsperson 522 World Screen 10/15
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Blue Ant International Land of Gremlins / Murder U / Gifted There are nearly 200 hours of programming being launched by Blue Ant International at MIPCOM, including almost 50 hours of 4K nature and wildlife content. The natural-history slate includes Land of Gremlins, which introduces viewers to unique and endangered species in Madagascar. Solange Attwood, the company’s senior VP of international, calls the series “a sure-fire hit.” Murder U tells of scandals that took place on college campuses. The 6x1-hour offering “taps into the insatiable demand for factual crime-reenactment series,” according to Attwood. Gifted looks at the sport of bodybuilding and goes behind the scenes to showcase the training and dedication it takes to compete at a professional level.
“Whether its evergreen natural history or unique storytelling combined with captivating characters in our factual content, our robust catalogue offers a fresh, new and broad appeal for our international buyers.” —Solange Attwood Land of Gremlins
Content Television The Ivy / Respectable: The Mary Millington Story / Prophet’s Prey Directed by BAFTA Award winner Adrian Sibley, The Ivy provides a behind-the-scenes look at the famed London restaurant as it undergoes its first major renovation in 25 years. Content Television is offering that title for MIPCOM buyers, alongside Respectable: The Mary Millington Story. The documentary tells a story of 1970s rebellion, set against the backdrop of disco, politics and porn. Prophet’s Prey examines the life of Fundamentalist Church leader Warren Jeffs. “Content Television has established a leading position in the international television marketplace, representing a diverse range of programming that consistently delivers high ratings and critical acclaim around the world,” says Greg Phillips, the company’s president.
“Content Television has become a go-to distributor for high-quality, commercially appealing factual and factual-entertainment programming.” —Greg Phillips Prophet’s Prey
Corus Entertainment Cheer Stars / Buying the View / Masters of Flip Corus Entertainment is expanding its distribution presence at MIPCOM with original content from the company’s growing slate of reality series developed for its portfolio of women’s and family networks. Among the highlights for the market is Cheer Stars, about a competitive cheerleading team. In the way of property series, there are Masters of Flip and Buying the View. “Corus has a strong track record in unscripted programming in the property space,” says John MacDonald, the executive VP of television and head of women and family at Corus Entertainment. “Continuing this tradition, Masters of Flip is the number one new series on Corus’s W Network this year, and Buying the View delivers spectacular reveals we’re sure will be attractive to international broadcasters.”
“Corus has built its market-leading networks on the success of its unscripted reality and lifestyle programming, and we are thrilled to be bringing such a strong roster of new series to the international marketplace as a distributor for the first time.” —John MacDonald Cheer Stars 524 World Screen 10/15
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Distribution360 The Sextortion of Amanda Todd / Safe Haven for Chimps / An RAF Summer Distribution360 (D360) is bringing more than 50 hours of fresh factual content to the market with the acquisition of awardwinning CBC documentaries from popular brands the fifth estate and The Nature of Things. “Representing a wide array of genres, including world affairs, crime, nature and science, this new library offers thought-provoking content that will resonate with viewers worldwide,” says Diane Rankin, the senior VP of international sales and acquisitions at D360. Further titles from D360 include The Sextortion of Amanda Todd, about a young girl who was the victim of sexual extortion and blackmail; Safe Haven for Chimps, featuring an interview with world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall; and An RAF Summer, spotlighting the Royal Air Force.
“Among D360’s new titles there are documentaries that tackle important worldwide issues, that offer exclusive expert opinion and commentary, and that showcase stunning visuals from the sea, land and sky.” —Diane Rankin Safe Haven for Chimps
DRG The West / Baby Animals in the Wild / Life on the Line The story of the Wild West is told through reconstructions and interviews in DRG’s The West. “I am really excited about this show, as it is executive produced and presented by Robert Redford; it is always exciting to work with prestigious talent,” says Katy Cundall, the company’s VP of factual acquisitions. “For buyers this is an opportunity to pick up a prime-time factual piece of programming with a rich visual context and integrity from a great team of producers, including Stephen David Entertainment and Sundance Productions for AMC.” DRG is also presenting Baby Animals in the Wild and Life on the Line. The latter takes everyday laws of physics and tests them through death-defying acts.
“Baby Animals in the Wild presents an opportunity for broadcasters to pick up a show that sits well in access prime or early peak and is real co-viewing for all the family while being incredibly fun.” —Katy Cundall Baby Animals in the Wild
DW Transtel Fake, Stolen—Sold! / Our Technical World / Global Snack With Fake, Stolen—Sold!, DW Transtel offers buyers a series that exposes the sinister side of the art world by sharing stories of heists and uncovering the secrets of master counterfeiters. Our Technical World looks at how technology is shaping the future. “It’s a fascinating documentary series that explores how technology affects our lives, from microscopes to monster machines, from inside our minds to the edges of the Earth,” says Petra Schneider, DW’s director of sales and distribution. “We also want to give viewers a unique view of globalization by introducing them to fast-food street vendors around the world. Whether it’s hot dogs in New York, french fries in Brussels, falafel in Jerusalem, soba noodles in Tokyo or crunchy, roasted grasshoppers in Thailand, Global Snack is there.”
“Our catalogue is extremely diverse and this year’s highlights provide a glimpse of that diversity, including everything from high-profile theft to how technology is changing how we live and experience the world.” —Petra Schneider Our Technical World 526 World Screen 10/15
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FOX International Channels Content Sales The 2000s: The Decade We Saw It All / T-Rex Autopsy / The Kangaroo King Following on the success of The 80s: The Decade That Made Us and The 90s: The Decade That Connected Us, FOX International Channels Content Sales is showcasing the fourhour miniseries The 2000s: The Decade We Saw It All. “The 2000s is the first major documentary to explore these ten tumultuous years that changed our lives forever,” says Prentiss Fraser, the company’s senior VP and global head of content sales. T-Rex Autopsy watches as paleontologists perform an autopsy on one of the largest carnivorous creatures of all time, while The Kangaroo King spotlights a tough marsupial named Rusty. “The Kangaroo King is a fascinating look at his superior strength and what it takes to endure drought, a heat wave and battling the land itself,” says Fraser.
“True to the loved and revered National Geographic Channel brand, these stories are told in a fun and exciting way, yet they cover scientific and pop-culture facts.” —Prentiss Fraser The Kangaroo King
Gusto TV A is for Apple / Crate to Plate / Fish Gusto TV is not only one of Canada’s newest food and lifestyle channels, it is also an award-winning producer of content, which it is offering up to international buyers. One of the titles included in the Gusto catalogue is A is for Apple, “a fun, hip new cooking series with engaging Millennial hosts in a high-concept cooking environment,” says Chris Knight, the company’s president and CEO. Crate to Plate is a fast-paced docuseries that follows the journey of ingredients from the time they are harvested to being served. In Fish, host Spencer Watt travels the country in search of the ultimate sustainable seafood experience. “These series all have superior production values, engaging hosts and fascinating stories,” says Knight.
“All our series come as turnkey packages with webisodes, marketing materials, social-media calendars, recipes and high-resolution photos.” —Chris Knight A is for Apple
NHK Enterprises Leaps in Evolution / A Portrait of Postwar Japan: Economic Miracle / The Great Asian Highway The 4K science doc Leaps in Evolution, a highlight from NHK Enterprises (NEP), tells the story of human beings and how the species has evolved. The history documentary A Portrait of Postwar Japan: Economic Miracle looks at the country’s quick rise to becoming an economic powerhouse. “This special program, commemorating the 70th anniversary since the end of World War II, sheds light on the unknown footsteps of Japan and searches for lessons we can learn,” says Noriko Aratani, the company’s deputy general manager for international sales. The travel series The Great Asian Highway takes a journey along a network of roads that crisscross 32 countries. “More than just another ordinary travelogue, the program is an epic reportage highlighting the unknown lives of people in Asia,” Aratani says.
“While pursuing new video expression by utilizing 4K/8K technology, NHK and NEP continue to create high-quality content that will remain in the hearts of viewers.” —Noriko Aratani
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Novovision The X-Prank Show: Urgent Landing / Prank My Pet / The Best Is Me! The latest hidden-camera series from Novovision, The X-Prank Show: Urgent Landing, takes place aboard a Boeing 737. In each episode, celebrities are pranked into believing that the aircraft they’re on is going down. “This format was conceived for an international audience, even if it was first produced for the Middle East,” says Francois-Xavier Poirier, the company’s CEO. “We are currently in discussions with major clients in the U.S. and Asia to adapt and produce this format locally.” In Prank My Pet, animals are at the center of the action. “This production is very candid and targets the whole family,” says Poirier. Novovision is also presenting the entertainment series The Best Is Me!
“From its multimilliondollar budget to its emotional punch, Urgent Landing has been an exciting venture from the beginning.” —Francois-Xavier Poirier The X-Prank Show: Urgent Landing
Off the Fence Behind the Screams / Top Ten Warfare / Meet My Moose From Psycho to The Exorcist, the 6x1-hour series Behind the Screams takes a look back at some of the most popular horror movies of all time. “With scripted content overwhelming prime-time slots, factual shows need to engage viewers on the same sort of level,” says Mette KanneBehrendsen, the VP of acquisitions at Off the Fence. “Behind the Screams shows a merging of these two genres, where factual is supported by fiction in a way that is entertaining as well as intellectually engaging.” Top Ten Warfare focuses on the battles, leaders and technological inventions that have shaped and changed the way we live. Meet My Moose follows a newborn calf during the first year of its life.
“With a new programming brochure comprised of almost 400 hours spread across six genres, we have a huge variety of content, allowing us to cater to different platforms.” —Mette Kanne-Behrendsen Meet My Moose
PBS International American Epic / In Defense of Food / I’ll Have What Phil’s Having Host Phil Rosenthal brings his unique brand of humor to his search for the world’s best food in I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, which travels to world-class food cities such as Barcelona, Paris and Tokyo. The PBS International highlight is part of a catalogue that also includes American Epic, a music documentary, and Vampire Legend, which separates gothic fiction from fact. PBS International is heading to MIPCOM to also promote the titles In Defense of Food, following best-selling author Michael Pollan as he examines how the modern Western diet is doing serious damage to our health, and CyberWar Threat, a doc that explores the new reality of cyberwar, in which no nation or individual is safe from attack.
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Scorpion TV There Is Many Like Us / Cannabis to Save My Life / Dirty Gold War Scorpion TV’s documentary There Is Many Like Us tells the love story of two people who met in a prison camp during the Holocaust, were separated and then met and married 30 years later. “There Is Many Like Us is a high-productionvalue drama doc that will delight, entertain and inform,” says David Cornwall, the company’s managing director. “It will work for history buyers, drama buyers and documentary buyers.” Cannabis to Save My Life charts a woman’s desperate search for a cure for her brain cancer that leads her to break the law to try to prolong her life. Dirty Gold War reveals the dark side behind this precious metal. “Jewelers are trying to implement fair-trade policies but many buyers still do not know where their gold comes from,” says Cornwall.
“Our focus at MIPCOM is to get quality, thought-provoking, commercial documentaries out to a wide audience.” —David Cornwall There Is Many Like Us
Scripps Networks Interactive Cake Wars / Junk Gypsies / Bert the Conqueror In the competition series Cake Wars, four bakers face off to see whose creation will come out on top and earn them $10,000. The 8x1-hour series is among the highlights of Scripps Networks Interactive’s MIPCOM slate, which also features Junk Gypsies. In this show, sisters Amie Sikes and Jolie Sikes-Smith transform trash into one-of-a-kind home furnishings. Scripps is also offering three seasons of Bert the Conqueror, which sees Bert Kreischer undertaking a range of challenges, from a wife-carrying competition to swimming with great white sharks. “Scripps Networks creates lifestyle programming that appeals to audiences worldwide,” says Hud Woodle, the company’s VP of international program licensing and distribution.
“The titles we are bringing to MIPCOM combine extraordinary stories and passionate industry experts with high-quality entertainment, making Scripps Networks’ programming welcome in households across the globe.” —Hud Woodle Junk Gypsies
TCB Media Rights Deals, Wheels and Steals / Changing Faces / Combat Trains From the producer of the popular series Wheeler Dealers comes Deals, Wheels and Steals, which TCB Media Rights is presenting at MIPCOM. Paul Heaney, the company’s CEO, says he sees the potential for sales as a finished series and also as a format for the show. The 6x30-minute series Changing Faces comes to the TCB catalogue from Australia and presents a new angle in the plastic-surgery makeover subgenre. “Plastic surgery is a subject that is an evergreen among the buying community,” Heaney says. A HISTORY UK commission, Combat Trains tells the stories of trains that played a role in conflicts over the last 150 years. “[Shows about] trains are nearly always ratings winners across many territories,” adds Heaney.
“I want to make producers pleased and proud to have chosen TCB to sell their shows and that will only be truly borne out by loads of sales.” —Paul Heaney Changing Faces 532 World Screen 10/15
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Tricon Films & Television Breakneck Builds / The Incredible Food Race / On the Record with Mick Rock The home-renovation series Breakneck Builds uses narration, but no host, to explore the inner workings of prefab factories where engineers use cutting-edge technology to build a house in just days. “It not only informs, but it is also entertaining, as you meet the families behind these homes,” says Karthiga Ratnasabapathy, the VP of worldwide sales and acquisitions at Tricon Films & Television. Also new to Tricon’s lifestyle slate is The Incredible Food Race, in which families go head-to-head in food-based challenges. In the way of factual entertainment, the company is presenting On the Record with Mick Rock, which travels to the hometowns of various musical artists to find out what inspires them.
“On the Record with Mick Rock not only caters to music fans but also to anyone interested in photography and art.” —Karthiga Ratnasabapathy On the Record with Mick Rock
Twofour Rights The Chopping Block / Get Me to the Church on Time / Raising Pompeii The one-hour doc special Raising Pompeii will make use of CGI to resurrect Pompeii from the ashes and bring it back to life. “Drawing on the expertise of world-class experts and leading CGI animators, the program will recreate ancient Pompeii as a photorealistic virtual city,” explains Anthony Appell, the head of sales at Twofour Rights, which is selling the title. There are also two new reality titles in the Twofour catalogue available as formats. Get Me to the Church on Time sees brides and grooms wake up thousands of miles away with just 72 hours to get back for their wedding. “It’s got humor and jeopardy, which make for perfect entertainment,” says Appell. The Chopping Block blends competitive cooking with a reality-show concept.
“The close relationship we have with the producers within the wider Twofour Group has broadened the volume and diversity of content now available to us.” —Anthony Appell Raising Pompeii
ZDF Enterprises The Secret Garden / Human Limits / How Climate Made History The award-winning filmmaker Jan Haft is responsible for The Secret Garden, which is the latest addition to the acclaimed Nature Now! series from ZDF Enterprises’ ZDFE.factual catalogue. The ZDFE.factual slate also includes Human Limits, a two-part series that spotlights people with skills that go beyond what is ordinarily deemed humanly possible. The narrative in How Climate Made History, meanwhile, explores little-known connections between the changes in the Earth’s climate and major historical events. “All three programs have genuine universal appeal and are full of stunning images,” says Ralf Rückauer, the VP of ZDFE.factual. “On top of this, their topics are of relevance all over the world.”
“ZDFE.factual has been known for all kinds of top documentaries for many years now, but it is mainly the genres of history, science and wildlife that we stand for and which are highly esteemed among our international clients.” —Ralf Rückauer Human Limits 534 World Screen 10/15
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ocs DAre In
Andy Fry checks in with leading programmers about their commissioning remits. arely a day goes by without someone referring to this as the golden age of scripted TV. But this could just as easily be called the golden age of factual content. From blue-chip natural history to deftly scripted factual-entertainment series, ob docs to live events, there is a new level of creativity and innovation in the genre today. All these program types can be found within Discovery’s global family of channels, says Phil Craig, the executive VP and chief creative officer at Discovery Networks International. “Our output ranges from global events like Racing Extinction, which will air on Discovery later this year, through to the stylish, warm, relatable series aired on TLC. We also have natural-history productions like The Lions of Sabi Sand: Brothers in Blood, which was very successful for us.”
DISCOVERING THE WORLD In recent years, Discovery has been accused by critics of dumbing down its factual content. The company’s new senior management is working hard to address that charge, both in the U.S. and internationally. “We are doubling down on the brand—both modernizing it and restoring its core values,” says Craig. “We want to focus on the sense of wonder and beauty that Discovery has always stood for and deliver shows with scale and ambition. Our message to producers is that we are loosening our filters. Producers should not be afraid of coming to us with a hunch.” At global rival National Geographic Channels International (NGCI), a part of the FOX International Channels group, there’s a mix of U.S. and international shows; the latter includes series like Ultimate Airport Dubai, Science of Stupid and Megastructures. There is also a growing emphasis on “distinctive and premium event programming that can help build the National Geographic brand,” says Hamish Mykura, the executive VP and head of international content at NGCI. An example, commissioned out of the U.S., is Breakthrough, a science-based anthology series for which Hollywood heavyweights will direct episodes. Figures including Ron Howard, Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Paul Giamatti, Akiva
Goldsman and Brett Ratner will front films on subjects such as brain science, longevity, water, energy, pandemics and cyborg technology. Breakthrough, says Mykura, “will be a series of personal journeys through the world of cuttingedge technology. And it’s exactly the kind of distinctive programming that helps define the brand. So are our dramas and our documentary strand Explorer.” Explorer is an interesting example. The series originally ran from 1985 to 2010, giving birth to 2,000 films along the way. On ice since then (at least in terms of original production), the franchise is being revived for use across all 171 NGCI channels worldwide. “It is still a very well-known brand internationally,” explains Mykura, “and is a great platform to link up with other parts of the National Geographic family, such as the magazine.” Another event that Mykura highlights is Mission Pluto, a one-hour special that was broadcast to coincide with NASA’s New Horizons’s flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015. “It was great for the channel to show such an important moment unfolding in real time.” A big new upcoming event at Discovery is Racing Extinction, a theatrical-quality documentary that will take a close look at endangered species. “We will air it day and date around the world, including in the U.S., so that it has the maximum impact,” says Craig. “The idea is that it should be the start of a movement to save endangered species from extinction.” Craig acknowledges that the Discovery machine is not easy to understand. In simple terms, content commissioning is handled by a U.S. team and by a London-based international group that answers to Craig. Both teams develop content in consultation with channel chiefs around the world. “We are generating ideas, but we are also listening to what the channel chiefs feed back from their markets. We place a strong emphasis on shows that can work worldwide, but there is also room in the mix for regional commissions and acquisitions.” The relationship between the U.S. and international teams is close, continues Craig, “but our job is not to copy
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Australian Professor Christopher Clark fronts ZDF’s Deutschland-Saga, giving an outsider’s perspective on Germany.
them. We need to be finding different stories, faces and styles as we grow our business.” While events are an important part of making the Discovery channels stand out, equally important are the series that can lock in audiences over the long term. Some of these series come to the international networks via the U.S. production pipeline, but others are commissioned out of the international division. Examples are Too Ugly for Love? (made by Discovery-owned producer betty), Body Bizarre (Zig Zag Productions) and Extraordinary Pregnancies (Curve Media), all of which air on TLC. For Discovery Channel, titles coming up include Life of Dogs (Plimsoll Productions).
A REAL MIX According to Craig, Discovery is interested in animal programming—as long as it is produced in the right way. “We’ve probably neglected animal programming. But it has a strong audience if you can produce it in a modern style—by which I mean it must be livelier and more storydriven than [it was] in the past.” Survival and adventure programming is also featuring more in the Discovery mix, says Craig, with shows like Manhunt and Into the Unknown in the lineup. Personalityled titles in general are an important part of the Discovery diet, “but not if it’s just a bolted-on celebrity. We want shows in which the star’s interest in a subject gives the viewer an energizing, visceral experience. An example of that really working is Idris Elba: No Limits from Shine North. We’re also pleased with Engine Addict with Jimmy de Ville, a Maverick TV show that follows an extreme engineer as he hunts down and repurposes engines in unusual ways.” A lot of these commissions are from British producers, but Craig says he is expanding the network of companies he works with. “I’m developing shows with producers in Australia, Singapore, Canada, the U.S., Germany and South Africa as well.”
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NGCI uses a lot of U.K.-based indies but is seeking to cast a wider net. “The success of U.K. indies is testament to their quality, but we are working with producers in countries ranging from Norway to Colombia,” says Mykura. In terms of subject matter, Mykura adds, “Our priorities are science, adventure and exploration, though we define those broadly.” Recent commissions in the survival space include Survive the Tribe, which was produced by Icon Films in the U.K. The show aired in the U.S. and U.K. first and then went to the rest of NGCI’s channels. Mykura has his eye on shows that can work worldwide. “As we drive towards a premium content model, it makes more sense for us to pool budgets so that we can make bigger series that will echo around the world.”
BRITISH HISTORY The content model is different at A+E Networks, says Rachel Job, director of programming for HISTORY and H2 at A+E Networks U.K. “Our U.S. pipeline is so strong that we aren’t really in the business of commissioning global shows from the international part of the company. Instead, we look to commission shows with a much more local feel.” She cites as an example Sean Bean on Waterloo, for HISTORY in the U.K., in which the renowned actor examines the key battle of the Napoleonic Wars. “It was the 200th anniversary of Waterloo,” says Job, “but I don’t think that in itself would have been enough to secure a commission. It was the fact that Sean Bean had a passion for this period of history that was decisive. You need really strong hooks like that to encourage viewers to come and look for you on the electronic program guide. We also commissioned Shaun Ryder on UFOs, which did very well.” In general, Job will always look for some kind of built-in brand awareness. “We have commissioned local versions of Pawn Stars for both the U.K. and South Africa HISTORY channels,” she says. “We also air motoring show Fifth Gear
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Job says she is looking for more “celebrity passion projects and male-skewing formats. There are also gaps for H2, where we need military British and European history—but we tend to acquire that rather than commission. Sometimes if we really like a show we will commit some money to it, but the producer will need to complete the financing. One example was Woodcut’s Defenders of the Sky: The Story of the Airfield, in which Jules Hudson uncovered interesting stories about British wartime airfields.”
Breakthrough is a global commission for National Geographic Channel.
on HISTORY. That one is interesting because it previously aired on Channel 5 and Discovery. But we were happy to bring it to our channel because it was a known brand that came with a loyal audience attached.”
PARTNER POTENTIAL While locally targeted content is a priority, Job says A+E Networks will work across borders when it makes sense. “In the case of Fifth Gear, we shot individual South African and Romanian episodes. That is valuable when it comes to promoting your channel in local markets and can attract product placement (for example Rompetrol in Romania). In a separate example, we had a six-part docudrama called The World Wars, which aired on HISTORY around the world. It was about the way World War I shaped the personalities of people like Hitler and Mussolini, who would become key figures in World War II. That idea lent itself to cooperation between the channels.” Among the American shows doing well for the international channels, she cites perennial favorite Pawn Stars and a new survival show called Alone, in which ten survivalists must outlast each other to win a $500,000 prize. Unlike other series in this genre, the participants are left to fend for themselves, so they don’t know if their rivals have thrown in the towel. “I wasn’t sure when I first saw the show,” admits Job, “but it has done a superb job for us. It is totally immersive, unlike so many semi-scripted shows we see. We also do well with the Canadian adventure show Mantracker, in which an expert tracker pursues two people through the wilderness.”
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Discovery, NGCI and HISTORY all need to stock their schedules almost entirely with factual content (plus a few high-profile historical dramas). The situation is different at Europe’s public broadcasters, though even there factual content continues to play a key role. A case in point is German public broadcaster ZDF, which has numerous popular slots for factual programming strands. “Our most important strand is Terra X, which airs on Sundays at 7:30 p.m.,” says Natalie Müller-Elmau, the editorial director for culture, history and science at ZDF. “Usually we air history, natural history or science here, with an average audience of about 4 million per week. Other important factual slots are Tuesdays at 8:15 p.m. and the ZDF-History slot on Sundays at 11:30 p.m. We also have an access prime-time knowledge magazine on Sundays at 6:30 p.m. This is called Terra Xpress and leads into the Terra X slot. ZDF also commissions factual-entertainment shows for daytime and for thematic channels ZDFinfo and ZDFneo. The spin-off channels are aimed at a younger audience, so content can be edgier.” Terra X is where blue-chip factual shows are aired, says Müller-Elmau. “This is where you can see stunning images, cutting-edge CGI, quality workmanship. Mostly we air single films or short-run series, usually up to four episodes. We vary genres week to week because the audience likes the variety. But I would say we are showing more natural history and science than we used to. A couple of years ago, there was probably more history.” Sometimes ZDF will co-produce shows for Terra X with partners such as the U.K.’s BBC, but for the most part they are 100 percent funded by the German pubcaster. “This slot is very formatted and has a loyal audience,” explains Müller-Elmau, “so not everything fits there. We have a particular way of working with this slot which is popular with German viewers.” ZDF likes to use hosts to make its factual subject matter come to life. A good example of such a host is Professor Harald Lesch—Germany’s equivalent of Neil deGrasse Tyson or Brian Cox—a scientist who can engage easily with mainstream audiences. Another key player is Dirk Steffens, an adventurer who hosts shows like Superanimals and Fascination Earth. Deutschland-Saga, another popular recent series in the Terra X slot, features Australian academic Christopher Clark traveling around Germany and giving an outsider’s insights on the country. The Tuesday and late-night Sunday slots deliver audiences of around 2.5 million and 1.2 million, respectively. Recent shows in the Tuesday slot include Royal Dynasties, Last Secrets of the Third Reich and Busting the Berlin Wall. “This is a hard slot for co-producers because the subjects have to relate very strongly to German audiences,” says Müller-Elmau. “It’s worth noting we also share [the block]
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Discovery Channel in the U.K. recently aired The Lions of Sabi Sand: Brothers in Blood.
with other departments, so sometimes it will have programming on subjects like consumer matters or food.” The Sunday 11:30 p.m. slot is more experimental, she says. “As it is late at night, it’s an opportunity to air more of a mix of shows, some serious, some entertaining. We have looked at subjects such as the great lovers of history and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.” Overall, she continues, factual content is doing a good job for ZDF: “Public broadcasters often have older audiences, but our department’s shows are attracting large numbers of 30- to 49-year-olds.”
THE AUSTRIAN WAY Quality factual content also remains a priority for Austrian public broadcaster ORF, says Andrew Solomon, head of natural history, history and science. “Tuesday 8:15 p.m. is our natural-history slot Universum, which has been running for 28 years. Friday 10:40 p.m. is our history slot Universum History, now four years old.” Throughout the year, Solomon’s department is responsible for filling around 100 slots with a mix of acquisitions and co-productions. In a typical year, he says, ORF will be directly involved in around 10 to 12 wildlife productions and around three to four history co-productions. “We have good relationships with ZDF and members of the ARD system in Germany, as well as with the BBC in the U.K., from which we have pre-bought series such as Africa and Frozen Planet. We also co-produce with partners like the Smithsonian Channel, one example being the wildlife film Vanishing Kings: Lions of the Namib.” The quality of the ORF Universum productions is such that they invariably require input from a number of partners. Current projects cited by Solomon include Hell and Paradise: Russia’s Wild Sea, an Interspot Film that has Channel One Russia, ZDF, ARTE France, Smithsonian Channel and NGCI as partners. Just as complex are
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Brahmaputra: Sky River of the Himalayas, a 4K film that has ORF, ARTE France, ZDF and CCTV10 China backing the production; and Turtle Hero: A Cold Blooded Passion, Peter Praschag’s quest to save the Yangtze giant softshell turtles. This special involves ORF, ARTE, PBS Nova and BR. Universum History commissions must have an Austrian angle, says Solomon, but given the central role the country has played in world history and culture, it is not as hard as you might think. He cites the example of Maximilian of Mexico: The Dream of Empire, a 19thcentury story with TV Unam of Mexico as one of a series of co-production partners. “We’re also very proud of Lost City of the Gladiators, in which renowned archaeologist Wolfgang Neubauer uses lasers, magnetometers and ground-penetrating airborne radar to reveal the secrets of Carnuntum [a Roman army camp built on the Danube] and build amazing 3D structures. Co-production partners here include Smithsonian Channel,” which also joined forces with ORF on another historical production, The Real Beauty and the Beast. Cutting-edge technology and judicious use of dramatic reconstruction both play a part in ORF productions, “but most important is strong storytelling,” says Solomon. “We take more care with stories than ever before, because that’s what keeps audiences glued.” In terms of format, he says ORF will rarely air anything longer than a three-part series in its factual TV slots. “If we do buy something longer, like BBC’s Life Story, then we’ll usually split it into sections and run it as a series of single films.” In terms of strategic highlights for this year, Solomon says ORF is particularly pleased to be hosting the 2015 World Congress of Science & Factual Producers. “This has been a big year for Austria in terms of anniversaries and events, so we’re looking forward to the visibility the Congress will bring when it comes to Vienna.”
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HISTORY in the U.K. commissioned Sean Bean on Waterloo to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the infamous battle.
The BBC in the U.K. is one of the world’s biggest commissioners and buyers of factual content, with responsibilities split across numerous departments. One of the most interesting is Storyville, an 18-year-old strand that has provided a home to some of the world’s most compelling and important documentaries. Commissioning editor Nick Fraser admits that it’s tough to keep up standards because budgets are so tight, and because new players like Netflix and Amazon are changing the rights landscape, “but we try to stay very alert and make sure we are talking directly to the people whose ideas have the potential to illuminate the world.”
INSIDE STORYVILLE Located on BBC Four, Storyville has around 20 slots a year for films ranging in length from about 60 to 90 minutes (the length is usually decided at rough-cut stage, says Fraser). Titles coming up this autumn and winter include A Nazi Legacy, which follows international human rights lawyer Philippe Sands as he travels with two septuagenarian sons of convicted Nazi war criminals and discovers their opposing views on the legacies of their fathers’ actions. There is also The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses and Carnivals, which Fraser says is the latest in a line of Storyville films that juxtaposes archive material with contemporary music. This film, out of Iceland, will explore the history of circuses and be accompanied by the music of Sigur Rós. Fraser also highlights Sean McAllister’s A Syrian Love Story, which follows a Syrian-Palestinian family over a period of five years in the wake of their exile from Syria; and Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman’s Sundance awardwinning documentary on the Mexican drug wars “which is like watching a real-life horror story,” Fraser says.
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With around $100,000 to offer per film, co-production is important to Storyville, but the idiosyncratic nature of the strand’s films means that the pool of partners is not the same as the global pay-TV factual brands. “We work a lot with Scandinavia and the Netherlands,” says Fraser, “because they have similar tastes as ours. Sometimes we also work with Canadian producers and broadcasters. If you look at something like India’s Daughter, one of our most globally watched films, partners came from Denmark, Scandinavia, Canada and PBS in the U.S. ARTE can also be a very good partner and worked with us on Notes on Blindness.” While Storyville doesn’t have a lot of money to put up for production, there are other benefits for producers, adds Fraser. “The BBC has very good lawyers, which is an asset with some of the controversial subjects we deal with. Our films are also aired internationally in a couple of key ways. One is Storyville Global, a strand that appears on international BBC services like BBC World News. The other is an initiative called World Stories, which enables some of the films we co-produce to be made available to broadcasters that don’t have the budgets to acquire them in the usual way.” Fraser isn’t editorially prescriptive, but he is adamant that Storyville shows need to provoke and unsettle their audiences. “You get something like Show of Shows, in which nostalgia for circuses mixes with guilt about animal cruelty, or A Nazi Legacy, which views the horror of Nazism in an entertaining way. Our films can’t just be statements, because the BBC does that so well through all of its news output. Storyville subjects need to have drama, conflict and sophisticated themes.” Increasingly, that’s true for any factual channel that wants to have a future.
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BBC Worldwide’s Top Gear.
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BOYS’CLUB Survival and motoring titles are hoping to quench the male audience’s thirst for adventure. By Joel Marino n their bid to supply broadcasters with content that will appeal to the much-sought-after male demo, producers and distributors worldwide are heeding the call of the wild. Within the last decade, outdoor adventure series and survivalist fare pitting rugged explorers against Mother Nature have comfortably found spaces not just in traditionally guy-skewing channels, but in general-entertainment networks as well. In fact, these titles are more often than not popping up in programming slots once dominated by such go-to male genres as sports and history. Even classic manly offerings like motoring are pumping up the testosterone levels, replacing formats heavy on talking heads with charismatic characters and real-world thrills. “We’re seeing a lot of demand for shows with that heightened sense of adventure,” says Prentiss Fraser, the senior VP and global head of content sales at FOX International Channels (FIC). “Audiences, especially male audiences, want to experience something extreme through someone else’s eyes, and that is a welcome departure from what you’re used to seeing in these kinds of factual programs.”
WILD AT HEART At the core of these adrenaline-pumping titles is a curiosity factor, as many of these series offer their primarily male viewers glimpses of gritty lifestyles far removed from the contemporary urban experience. “There’s a trend toward a ‘re-wilding,’ a reaction against the pace of modern life,” says Andrea Olsson, the head of factual entertainment and lifestyle at BBC Worldwide, which is presenting the off-the-grid showcase Where the Wild Men Are with Ben Fogle at MIPCOM. “That rejection of the nineto-five and the ideas of adventure and exploration and endurance are really at the heart of these shows, and men are paying attention.” Authenticity is also key when it comes to finding a solid male audience. “The genre just feels more real, more raw, and it provides a unique perspective on how we interact with the environment,” says Sally Habbershaw, the VP of international programming, production and operations at A+E Networks. In June, the company’s male-friendly HISTORY brand premiered the competition series Alone, a show that upped the ante on the age-old struggle with nature by placing hard-core survivalists in remote locations without the assistance of production crews. “It didn’t have flashy camera angles or any sense that the contestants had the security of a production team there,” Habbershaw says. “When any one of the protagonists was
out there, they were truly exposed. It’s that sort of extreme endurance that leaves the audience in awe.” John Pollak, the president of Electus International, adds that wish fulfillment is also an important factor in assessing the genre’s sudden popularity. “[Audiences] want to watch because they think to themselves, ‘What if I were stranded in the middle of the ocean with nothing but the supplies that I have with me? What if I were stranded out in the middle of the wilderness with just the stuff I’m able to rummage?’ ” he says. “That really does happen to people, but up to this point you’ve actually never seen it on TV.”
PRIME PLAYERS Electus counts several survivalist titles in its catalogue, among them series starring British adventurer Bear Grylls, who is often credited with mainstreaming the genre with shows such as Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild in the mid-2000s. According to Pollak, the popular presenter is also responsible for shifting adventure programs away from niche channels and into more generalentertainment networks. “Bear has really spearheaded this movement and changed how people think about survivalist programming,” Pollak says. “He has definitely found a way to turn these amazing outdoor adventure shows that have primarily lived on cable into prime-time network hits that reach a vast, diverse audience.” As an example, Pollak lists Running Wild with Bear Grylls, in which the titular explorer shares his survival skills with a roster of celebrities. A special taped in September, airing later this year, featured U.S. President Barack Obama. That show’s second season aired on U.S. broadcast network NBC this summer in a weekday prime-time slot. Another Grylls show featuring celebrities—this time British ones—is Mission Survive for ITV. “Most of our adventure shows do really well with broad audiences,” says FIC’s Fraser. “They may first debut on, say, National Geographic, but then on the second window they go to big free-to-air broadcasters, networks like Channel 4 [in the U.K.] or CCTV in China or ZDF in Germany. It’s these big, broad channels that give the shows as much exposure as possible.” Having a big, marketable personality leading the show also helps spread word of mouth on a title. “In order to bring in a large enough audience, you need presenters who have an authentic interest in the subject matter and who are charismatic,” says Olsson of BBC Worldwide. “And if they’re recognized internationally, even better.”
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“He went through all of these initiation ceremonies with each of the tribes he visited, like eating the eye of an animal or getting his chest cut as part of a rite,” Kanna-Konsek says. “And he did all that because he had a passion and love for the subject matter before it morphed into a series. That’s evident from the start.”
GEARED FOR SUCCESS
Les Stroud films himself in the wilderness in TCB’s Survivorman.
Outdoor survival isn’t the only genre taking advantage of that primeval male urge for thrills and chills. Motoring has also adopted an edgier hue in order to draw male crowds, with many pointing to the BBC juggernaut Top Gear as the series that ushered in the sea change. Launched in 1977 as a conventional motoring show, the series underwent a 2002 revamp that brought in guy’s guy Jeremy Clarkson as host—and later Richard Hammond and James May—and added Y-chromosome-pleasing features such as full-throttle races and daredevil stunts. “Top Gear is one of those shows that really cuts through and reaches all types of male demos, producing some pretty incredible numbers,” Olsson of BBC Worldwide says. “Watching it achieve that success has been phenomenal.” The car show will undergo yet another makeover next year, once British presenter Chris Evans takes over hosting duties. (Clarkson, Hammond and May, meanwhile, are making a reportedly very expensive show for Amazon.) “Men have always been attracted to machinery, and a car show that provides plenty of that will do well, but to really stand out you have to also provide interesting personalities and an interesting backdrop,” says TCB’s Heaney. Among the motor-head titles in the company’s lineup is Inside Jaguar: Making a Million Pound Car, a Channel 4 commission that sees classic-car fanatic Mark Evans follow the construction of one of the world’s most exclusive vehicles. Michael Lolato, the senior VP of international distribution at GRB Entertainment, also highlights the importance of motoring as a space where boys can be boys. “We have a show called Car Crazy that’s exactly what the title says,” he notes. “It showcases the newest technology,
“It’s an important part of the pull of a program to have a character who knows what he’s doing,” says Paul Heaney, the CEO of TCB Media Rights. The company’s catalogue features seven seasons of the Canadian production Survivorman, which airs globally on Discovery Channel and Discovery Science. “Guys like Les Stroud of Survivorman seem to be coming to the fore because of the intensity they convey. When he’s out there in the wild, he’s filming himself—he’s on his own. That kind of commitment can relay the idea that, yes, this is as real as it gets.” And that attention to detail goes a long way in creating a bond between the male viewer and his onscreen proxy. “A show’s appeal goes back to the person in front of the camera,” says Munia KannaKonsek, the head of sales at Beyond Distribution. “There has to be a general empathy and maybe even a love for these hosts, because they’re not doing it just to exploit certain feelings, or just for the sake of doing it.” Kanna-Konsek highlights Tim Noonan, the producer and host of Beyond’s Boy to Man, a series in which the filmmaker immerses himself in remote cultures to undergo at-times dangerous coming-ofage rituals. GRB’s Chug features host Zane Lamprey sampling drinking culture in destinations worldwide.
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the newest models, anything having to do with the world of cars. It’s aimed at die-hard auto enthusiasts, who, let’s face it, tend to be male, and it really relishes that. They can talk all they want about cars and have fun doing it.”
A+E Networks’ Leepu & Pitbull, airing on HISTORY, is all about custom cars.
That male-clubhouse attitude has also bled into other factual genres, transforming the very definition of what constitutes male programming. “The idea of what guys want has been changing,” says Lolato. “Surprisingly, what’s doing very well for male audiences right now are cooking and food shows. Something like our series BBQ Pitmasters features cooking, which tends to be female-skewed, but it throws in these manly characters and a competition angle, so it becomes a perfect hybrid for the male viewer.” Jon Kramer, the chairman and CEO of Rive Gauche Television, agrees that lifestyle genres usually associated with female audiences can be easily flipped to hook guys— as long as they have the right sort of edge. “You don’t want a show where you’re just sitting in front of a TV watching somebody scramble an egg,” Kramer says. “A male viewer gets bored with that. You need cooking with action in it.” Kramer highlights the Rive Gauche offering The Illegal Eater, in which former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page takes viewers on tours of underground restaurants. “Shows that bring in high volumes of male viewers don’t necessarily have to focus on traditionally male sub-
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jects,” adds BBC Worldwide’s Olsson. “It’s interesting to note that [in 2014] more men watched the final of The Great British Bake Off than watched the FA Cup final on BBC One, for instance.” If spiced up enough, any lifestyle format can be redirected at men, says Kanna-Konsek of Beyond. “Our show Chuck’s Week Off: Mexico features chef [Chuck Hughes] immersing his culinary skills and love for adventure in another country. So there’s the food and the travel element, but it’s presented by a masculine host who is not only appealing to women, but also to men, who watch and learn and pick up information.”
CO-VIEWING DEMANDS Though more and more male-focused channels such as Spike TV are popping up worldwide, distributors are still targeting general-entertainment networks. And to do that, they’re realizing the late James Brown may have been on to something when he famously crooned, “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.” “That co-viewing area is the holy grail for a lot of broadcasters,” says Heaney of TCB. “So in order to sell well and widely, many producers are finding elements that will get women involved in these shows.” Olsson says that women made up 37 percent of total viewers during the latest season of Top Gear, which equates to 2.2 million viewers in the U.K. “Traditionally, men are much harder to reach, so being able to also attract
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Host Tim Noonan experiences dangerous coming-of-age rituals in Boy to Man, one of Beyond’s key maleskewing titles.
[the male] demographic is really valuable to broadcasters,” Olsson explains. “But channels are increasingly trying to balance their audiences, to be less gender exclusive and more appropriate for co-viewing. So what we refer to as ‘male-skewed’ at BBC Worldwide tends to be factual programming that appeals to men without alienating women.”
BEING INCLUSIVE A+E Networks’ Habbershaw also notes that shows produced with men in mind very often can strike a chord with women viewers. “Very interestingly, in Singapore, Pawn Stars’ audience is a 60-percent female skew, quite an anomaly [compared] to other markets,” she says. “There is an appeal to the transactional play and informational takeaway.” Additionally, a host’s relatability does wonders for getting women to stick around series focusing on seemingly “boys-only” subjects. Electus’s Pollak highlights Bear Grylls as the sort of personality able to bridge the gender gap. “Obviously, Bear is a compelling figure,” says Pollak. “And it helps that he’s a good-looking, charismatic guy. People love watching him, both female and male.” Still, Pollak makes it clear that the thrill of an adventure should remain at the root of any factual show.
“People are tired of the constructed, fake reality,” he says. “They want to see a show where, if you need food, you’re jumping on the back of an alligator and killing it because you need to eat it, where there’s not a food truck waiting for you once the camera stops rolling. Viewers watch because these shows are relatable adventures that bring them as close to the real thing as they can get from the safety of their homes. I think that is the real appeal.”
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Brian Cox Brian Cox’s list of credentials is long indeed. He is a professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester, a researcher at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, an OBE recipient and the Royal Society’s Professor for Public Engagement in Science. What people may not know is that he began his career as a rock musician in the band Dare and then joined D:Ream. He has successfully combined his ability to entertain, his gift for explaining complex concepts and his knowledge of physics to fullfill his mission of promoting the wonders of science to the general public through books, television and radio. He has hosted several shows on the BBC, including his Wonders of… series and Human Universe. Cox explains his passion for science and how television is instrumental in disseminating critically important concepts and facts. TV REAL: Why is it so important for the general public to understand science? COX: First and most importantly, it’s the foundation of our civilization, and that’s not too grandiose a statement. [Science is] everything we take for granted, from medical technology all the way to communication. So given that it’s the foundation of our civilization, I think that in democracies it’s important for people to have some familiarity with it. If you’re going to be faced with challenges or vote on issues like health policy or climate policy or energy policy, or even vote on issues like how much money we should invest in education and research, then you need to be familiar in at least some superficial way with science. Science is the way we make progress, and it’s the way we do things and have done them arguably since Newton or even since Galileo. Also, if we are talking about places where I work, such as the Large Hadron Collider, or used to work, like Fermilab in Chicago, those are facilities that are funded by taxpayers. That means that taxpayers have the right to know and enjoy the discoveries that we are making. The New Horizons mission [that recently sent back images of Pluto] was funded by U.S. taxpayers, so the information that we find there should be available to the public. And finally, given that not only our civilization but also our economies are based on science and engineering, especially in America and Europe, we need the next generation of scientists and engineers to come through. And that requires them to be inspired. It requires students in school to know what big discoveries we are making and what the current frontier of our knowledge and research is. TV REAL: How do television and radio help in this endeavor? COX: Television is still, in one form or another, the most influential medium. Whether that is broadcast television, or video on demand, or online, or whatever, television is the most powerful medium, and to an extent so are radio and certainly also podcasts. I’ve always said that science is too important not to be part of popular culture. So, given that television and radio and online media still dominate popular culture, and science is too
important not to be part of it, that means that science has to be on radio and television. We [producers of science programs] are competing with sports, we’re competing with music, and we’re competing with all sorts of more vacuous and more trivial areas! [Laughs] It seems rather strange to me to want it any other way, because we’re talking about the most important thing that we do in civilization, and so science needs to be center stage. TV REAL: I understand you used Doctor Who to explain science. What was the impetus for that? COX: For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, we did a special program, The Science of Doctor Who. It was a lecture I did on the BBC at the Royal Institution, which is itself a tremendous place in London; it’s been there since 1799. The special began in the TARDIS with Matt Smith as the Doctor, and me. It was really a lecture about relativity, plus a bit about alien life and a bit about what we know about time travel and what we can and can’t do. It was motivated by this wonderful idea that one of the Doctor Who writers had: the Doctor was trying to get me to inspire a little girl in the audience to be a scientist. It parallels the past because [the English scientist] Michael Faraday went to a lecture in the Royal Institution and got interested and inspired by Humphry Davy, another great scientist, and Faraday subsequently went to work for Davy at the Royal Institution. He invented the electric motor and the generator, in that building, because he was inspired at a lecture. So it became this wonderful construct about me giving a lecture, but I was actually being encouraged by the Doctor to inspire the next generation. It really was a lovely hour of television. The great thing was that I got to be in the TARDIS, I got to act with Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor, and I also got to give my lecture on relativity and the science of Doctor Who. TV REAL: Some scientists believe that to understand physics, you have to actually understand the math, and that providing metaphors like molasses for the Higgs field gives us a false sense of understanding. What is your counter-argument to that view?
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Human Universe is one of several BBCcommissioned series fronted by Brian Cox.
COX: Well, it’s true that Galileo said that the language of nature is mathematics. So if you really want to understand theoretical physics, and you really want to understand how elegant something like the Higgs mechanism is, then it’s true that you need to understand the math. Quantum field theory, which underpins those predictions, is a very, very difficult area of mathematics. It’s just the way that nature is. But that should not imply that some sort of understanding, perhaps even on a fairly deep level, should be beyond people to the point that you just write it off and say that nature is too difficult to understand. I don’t believe that. I think that you can get quite a good way to having a basic understanding of the elegance of modern physics by using words instead of mathematics and by describing things precisely. It would be a very strange world if everybody spent all their time learning mathematics to the level required to understand the Higgs mechanism in quantum field theory. In the U.K., we teach that in the fourth year of an undergraduate degree. I don’t think that we should retreat and say that these things are beyond the common people. They’re not, although it’s true that when you see the underpinnings of these theories, they’re unbelievably elegant, they’re remarkable. So the challenge for people like me, who write popular books and make television programs, is to try to get some sense of that elegance and power using language rather than the mathematics. You can also use visual imagery. You can use music. And what you’re trying to do is give some glimpses of that underlying power. When you think about it, we’re happy to listen to great operas that deal with sweeping stories of violence and tragedy on a level that most people won’t experience, thankfully. But there is still a gateway for that. You don’t tend to hear people say that because you’ve not fought in a war, you don’t really understand Saving Private Ryan as a film. No one makes that claim. And that’s actually not a trivial observation. There is a problem in society where we tend to say science is too difficult. Well, understanding what it’s like to fight in a war is too difficult, and the actual feeling of doing it is beyond most people, thankfully. But we still accept that great literature and great music and great films can be made about that experience. I think it’s the same with science. What we have to do is strive to make films about the experience of understanding nature and get as close as we can to it. TV REAL: When I was in school and we did physics, I used to find it really off-putting. We did experiments to measure velocity
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and acceleration maybe three or four times. Do you think there is any room in the curriculum for the kind of physics you teach to inspire kids to continue studying it further? COX: Rolling objects down inclined planes seems like a really dull thing to do, but actually it isn’t. We want kids to do experiments, but we want them to go as deep as they can. That basic experiment was difficult to understand, if you look back in the history of physics, because Newton’s laws came from doing things like that. And Newton’s laws are quite deep. The first law says that if things are moving, they carry on moving unless you do something to them. Until Newton and until Galileo, certainly, nobody thought of that. The fundamental point is that if something is moving, it carries on moving. Then you say, well, why does it do that? And the answer is, we don’t actually know. It’s called inertia, and it’s one of the great deep mysteries in physics. You can rephrase those things. If you rephrase them and say you can’t tell if you’re moving or not, that’s one of the fundamental principles of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. You can do no experiment to tell whether you’re moving in uniform motion or whether you are standing still, so therefore there is no such thing as absolute space. Einstein removed the notion of absolute space and he removed the notion of absolute time as well, so then you come to the conclusion that clocks move [at different speeds] and time is relative. The point is that those experiments, when you think about them deeply, are very interesting. The challenge is to give teachers, particularly in schools, the information, the intellectual armory to say that an experiment might seem simple, but actually there are profound things revealed from these experiments about the nature of the universe itself. There’s no such thing as a dull experiment. Experiments are all deeply interesting if you follow the threads. TV REAL: And do you think teachers should follow those threads more for younger children? COX: Yes, because science becomes a mystery. If you keep asking why and you keep asking what the consequences are, you’ll be led very quickly to special relativity and E=mc2. You’re led there by thinking about what it means to move and to stand still, and if we can tell when we’re moving. What is this motion thing anyway? It feels like we’re standing still on the surface of the Earth, but we’re not. The Earth is spinning very quickly and the Earth is going around the sun and the sun is going around the Milky Way and the Milky Way is flying around. Why is it that we don’t feel all that? So the idea of motion itself is interesting. What is this thing, motion, relative to what? That’s the key. The point is, there is no observation you can make in nature that’s dull. The dull thing is to say, Oh, the grass is green. But why is it green? What’s the green thing? Then you find out it’s chlorophyll. You ask, Ah that’s interesting, so what does that do? And off you go. Chlorophyll is the most efficient capture of sunlight, way more efficient than any solar cells that we can build. And you ask, why that is, and you find out that chlorophyll is something that a lot of things share and that the pigments are very ancient. You find out that chlorophyll tells you about the common ancestors between all these plants. And then you find out that the common ancestor lived 3.8 billion years ago. There is no observation you can make that is dull.
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Bear Grylls From roughing it solo to teaching ordinary Joes how to survive in the wild to accompanying celebrities on epic outdoor adventures, Bear Grylls has become the most recognizable face of a breed of factual television that audiences around the world can’t seem to get enough of. Survival and adventure shows are hot, and few more so than the ones fronted by Grylls, a former British Special Forces soldier. Since he came to global acclaim with Man vs. Wild, Grylls has amassed a portfolio on both sides of the Atlantic that includes Electus’s Running Wild and Mission Survive and Endemol Shine’s The Island. Between hopping from one isolated outpost to the next, Grylls shared with TV Real his approach to survivalist television. TV REAL: How did you first get into television? GRYLLS: TV was never something I aspired to, to be honest—I know I am not meant to say that at MIPCOM, but it is true! All I ever wanted to do was adventure with great friends and keep following my heart. After I left the military, Channel 4 and Discovery approached me to do a show where I demonstrated extreme survival techniques in the wild. They had read about my background in my first book, Facing Up, which I wrote after climbing Everest. I was really nervous about doing TV at the start and took a little persuading, but it has been just such a blast and a great privilege to do. I look back now at the time I turned those producers down to start with and think what an idiot I was. [Television] has allowed me to do what I love with an incredible team, as well as build a platform to inspire and influence young people with values for life and adventure. I’m very grateful. TV REAL: How do you think your on-screen style has evolved over the years? GRYLLS: It has been a ride with a lot of ups and downs, but throughout it I have always just tried to do my best and keep going! There has obviously been a significant amount of risk along the way, and too many close calls, but I am much more considered now in how we approach the risks. You only get it wrong once in the wild. I do look back at our early shows and slightly wince at how bad I was on camera, but I was lucky to get the chance to learn my trade. We recently won a BAFTA for The Island on Channel 4 and NBC, which was a testament to the production team. Our core team has worked alongside me for years in some of the toughest places on Earth. They are the real heroes. From Running Wild to Mission Survive to Britain’s Biggest Adventures, all these shows only work because I have a team that support me and listen and then work their nuts off to pull off the impossible, often in horrendous conditions!
TV REAL: Man vs. Wild was such a huge, long-running success; how did you decide what kind of show you were going to do next? GRYLLS: It’s important to mix it up and not get caught in a groove for too long. It’s better to leave people wanting more and bring out some fresh programming, so we made the brave but difficult decision to widen our slate. My late dad always used to say, “Leave things five minutes too early than too late!” It’s been a pretty natural progression since the Man vs. Wild days though, building shows that inspire and empower other people, whether it is my taking celebs as a group as well as one on one into the wild, or dropping contestants on an island. As a team we’ve just put our heads down and strived for what we believe in. TV REAL: Is it a different experience working with celebrities as compared with everyday participants? GRYLLS: I’ve been so lucky to take some incredible guys and girls on some substantial adventures over the years, from Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet, Will Ferrell, Kate Hudson and 20 other such names for Running Wild through to more U.K.-based celebs for Mission Survive. I am always reminded that however big the celebrity, they are always just like you and me underneath all the glitz: they put their trousers on one leg at a time! It is often very humbling to be beside these stars when they are working at their own limits and are maybe a little scared. I am always so respectful of that courage in them and never take their resolve for granted. Beyond everything, I have learnt that people tend to love the space, the challenge and the freedom of being away from it all and tackling the wilderness head-on with no distractions. It is often a rare chance for them to be themselves and to push and explore their limits. The wild tends to give a confidence that is unique and empowering, and I love to see that growth in people.
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By Mansha Daswani
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ITV has ordered a second season of Mission Survive, distributed by Electus International, for broadcast in 2016.
TV REAL: Why do you think your shows have such universal appeal? GRYLLS: I often say that the wild exposes us wide open and we can’t hide—that’s the pain but also the magic, and we see unlikely heroes emerge. Those we might think are invincible often actually crumble, and vice versa, and this is so interesting to watch. I think the wild speaks to everyone globally—it’s not biased, it’s intriguing, and people often want to imagine how they would do if it happened to them! TV REAL: What are some of the biggest production challenges in filming your series? GRYLLS: In the past there have been so many times where I thought, this is quite close to the edge here, whether from nasty snake bites to close shaves with salt water crocodiles. I have been dropped in deserts before where they have said, If you don’t get water in three hours you are going to die. That always focuses the mind, as do Arctic conditions where your pee freezes as it hits the ground in -45 degrees! The challenge is making sure you get it right every time. You only get it wrong once. TV REAL: Do you still have time to go off on your own adventures, without the cameras?
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GRYLLS: I still try to make time for family trips, even if it is just chilling out on our small Welsh island doing lots of mini adventures like caving or kayaking with the boys. It gives us the rare time just to be together as a family without a lot of communication with the outside world. TV REAL: What have you learned about working with broadcasters? GRYLLS: Choose which battles to fight and always choose quality over quantity—make fewer but better rather than masses of episodes that bleed something to death. That’s how we have done so many seasons of so many different shows. (We have also had a ton of failures, but people tend to forget about those!) TV REAL: What are some of the new projects you have coming up? GRYLLS: The Island has been recommissioned in the U.K., so we are working on season three of that, and a second season of Mission Survive. We have just aired a big naturalhistory series for ITV as well as having just wrapped a kids’ series for CITV. We have also just wrapped a big adventure series for Dragon TV in China, which is exciting. And Running Wild continues on NBC as well. All of these series then go to Discovery worldwide afterwards.
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Idris Elba By Mansha Daswani
Preparing for his leading role in the 2013 feature film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Idris Elba found himself immersed in many elements of South African culture, most notably the country’s music. The actor/musician was so inspired, he set out to make— and chronicle the making of—an album, mi Mandela. Along the way, what was first envisioned as a music documentary became a film about self-exploration, mentors and the rhythms that have shaped him. Mandela, My Dad and Me hails from Elba’s own production company, Green Door Pictures, Woodcut Media and Shine North, with Content Television handling international distribution. Elba tells TV Real about the genesis of Mandela, My Dad and Me, working with the documentary’s director, Daniel Vernon, and the challenges of pulling together the final film, which premiered at the BFI Film Festival in London in April. TV REAL: How did this documentary come about? ELBA: I played Mandela [in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom] and it was a life-changing experience. It took me to South Africa and brought me into a world that I had never experienced before. I was really fascinated with the music and wanted to come back and explore the music culture there. A year later, I found myself going to South Africa with a small team—a camera was rolling the whole time, and the idea was to document an actor, me, making an album. But then what this movie ended up being [about], was life [laughs]—life happening. There were some really fragile moments that emerged because at the time I was dealing with the loss of my dad. My dad was very encouraging. He used to say, Be an authority in whatever you want to do. And music was one of those things. My dad was the blueprint for the older Mandela I played when I was doing the movie. So, there I was in South Africa, cameras rolling, making this album, I had musicians from England and from South Africa all in the same room, and things started to spurt—emotions, grief. I was writing songs about my experience playing Mandela, who was very ill at the time. When we came [back to the U.K.], we had 90 hours of footage. I didn’t go out to make this film. I went out to make a film about pushing faders and tuning guitars. [Laughs] And then this came out. TV REAL: Even though the nature of the doc changed, does music still play a large role in the final film?
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ELBA: Yeah, the music is a very big component because it became my language, the way that I could express myself. And it was the gateway to meeting all these really wonderful characters who end up becoming great characters in the film. I used the music to connect with them. When I was playing Mandela, it was really hard for me to articulate what it was like to play him. But the songs and the poetry and the words and the melodies and the emotions helped me express that a lot easier. TV REAL: Tell me about your relationship with Daniel Vernon, the director, both during the filming process and then in post and as you were culling through those 90 hours. ELBA: Dan Vernon is such a talented man. The cameras would just be there and his interview process was very unobtrusive. He would pick up on emotions, let them live a little bit, and then ask me about them later and then I’d go, Oh man! Yeah, I remember this moment! It’s a really interesting way to work. We were very close; he followed me for almost nine months. He followed my mum for almost nine months trying to get pictures of me as a kid. [Laughs] We had 90 hours of footage and we parted ways, because, honestly, we ran out of finance. It was self-funded, and we didn’t really have a direction for the film. We had so much footage, but it seemed criminal to make a film about pushing faders and tuning guitars; there was so much more there. So my company, Green Door, decided, Let’s call [Daniel] back to help us shape this into something more meaningful. Nicholas Yearwood [Green Door’s head of development] was watching the footage to see what we could do with it. He was in tears the whole time. He said, This film is not about music anymore; this is about a lot of things. I think we can make a different film. TV REAL: When you saw the final product at the premiere, did you glean anything from it that you had not realized while making it? ELBA: That it’s quite funny. [Laughs] There are some laughout-loud moments. And there are just ironic moments. There’s a lot of my life that I don’t see from my perspective. So at that time, I must have been on the promotion tour for Mandela—15 different countries, red carpets everywhere—and watching that from a camera’s point of view was really like, Whoa, is that what I do? That definitely took me aback a little bit.
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Tuna, Life Below Zero—that do very well for us. But I don’t know if those shows are really what set us apart. Our strategy now is to lean in to what makes us distinct, and that’s big, bold programming swings that you would expect from this brand. A word that we haven’t used much historically but we’re using all the time now is “premium.” We are looking to become the world’s definitive premium network for science, adventure and exploration. TV REAL: Tell us about the partnership with Fox Searchlight on the feature-length documentary He Named Me Malala. MONROE: The doc is so fantastic. [Malala Yousafzai is] an incredible young woman and her story is extraordinary. [The partnership came about as] Fox Searchlight had screened the film for key people on the Fox lot, and Peter Rice, the chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, saw it. He is very engaged with our direction at National Geographic, and we had been talking a lot about how we want to be more in the feature-doc space. I very quickly sat down with the head of Fox Searchlight and we put a deal together. It’s been a great partnership [with the
COURTENEY MONROE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNELS By Mansha Daswani
The output from National Geographic Channel (NGC) in the U.S. has undergone a significant transformation in the last year. While long-running character-driven reality series continue to have a home on the network, the channel has switched its focus to brand-defining productions like the revived Explorer and upcoming event series Breakthrough. Leading this charge towards more premium content is National Geographic Channels U.S. CEO Courteney Monroe, who was upped to the top role at the group after serving as chief marketing officer. Monroe, who previously ran marketing at HBO, tells TV Real about reinvigorating the NGC lineup, the role of scripted on the network and the importance of brands in a cluttered multichannel landscape. TV REAL: When you came into the CEO post, what were the strengths of National Geographic Channel that you wanted to build on? And in what areas did you feel changes needed to be made? MONROE: Our greatest strength is the National Geographic brand. It is one of the most preeminent and iconic brands in the world. That is a great advantage and it always has been. In all honesty, I don’t think we had been fully leveraging that strength. What I want to do moving forward is truly harness the potential and power of the National Geographic brand and have that reflected in the content we create and in the ways in which we partner with the National Geographic Society. TV REAL: Tell me about the balance you’ve struck between character-driven reality shows and the big-event docs. MONROE: We have our fill of the character-driven stuff at this point. There are certain franchises across the competitive landscape that are still performing well, but I think the market is pretty saturated. We’re proud of the shows we have—Wicked
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studio and] with the Malala Fund. The goal of Malala, her father and the Malala Fund (her nonprofit organization), is for as many people as possible to see this film. For it to be released theatrically globally and then offered, after that theatrical run, in the 440 million homes around the world that carry National Geographic Channel, is an amazing thing. It is a true partnership. We acquired the film together, we are funding all of the marketing together, we are partnering on all the social-action campaigns and the education outreach. It’s not that we just acquired the TV rights. We are in this together on a daily basis. It speaks to our collective commitment to Malala’s story and quality filmmaking. TV REAL: How important are global events for NGC? MONROE: Really important. Breakthrough, which we are doing in partnership with GE, is another great global show. Part of our power is, as I said, the National Geographic brand, but it’s also the power of our global reach. Our aim is, as much as possible, to create really big global hit shows and franchises. We’re working more closely than ever with our National Geographic Channels International colleagues on the commissioning of content, the marketing of content, and how we can create breakthrough programming events around the world. TV REAL: What led to the decision to bring back Explorer? MONROE: It goes back to your first question, about the strengths that we wanted to leverage and lean into. That goes back to the brand. National Geographic Explorer is the longest-running, most award-winning documentary series on television. It stands for quality and for telling stories that matter. We were thinking about what made sense to be a part of our programming mix, and our desire to work more closely with the magazine. We developed a partnership whereby each episode of
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National Geographic Explorer on the television network is going to be ripped from the headlines of the National Geographic Magazine. Our first, in August, Warlords of Ivory, was about the ivory trafficking trade. We’re doing another one about Virunga. There are some great, hard-hitting stories in the magazine that lend themselves to Explorer documentaries. You can expect to see a lot more Explorer from us. TV REAL: What role does scripted play in the programming mix? MONROE: The three Killing films—Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing Jesus—were our three most-watched programs in history. We know audiences love scripted and advertisers love scripted. But a couple of things need to be in place for scripted to make sense for us. Scripted on National Geographic Channel should be rooted in some degree of factual accuracy and authenticity. There will always be fictionalized characters and fictionalized events, but in general, being grounded in some degree of factual accuracy is important. National Geographic deals in facts. And we wouldn’t just tackle any topic or any narrative. It needs to be something that feels organic to the National Geographic brand. TV REAL: What are some of the new shows you’re excited about? MONROE: I’m super excited about Malala. I’m really excited about Breakthrough. That’s in partnership with GE and is being executive produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer along with Asylum Entertainment. We have such great storytellers behind the camera. Each episode is being directed by a different creative genius: our first six directors are Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Paul Giamatti, Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard and Brett Ratner. It’s a unique, unprecedented partnership with GE. They are not an advertiser, they are not a sponsor—they are actually a production partner. We’re producing it together, we’re funding the production together. It’s pioneering in terms of a different way to work with a brand, and we’re telling stories about important scientific innovations and advancements that are happening right now. And I’m really excited about The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. That’s a global series, about exploring mankind’s quest to understand the divine. Morgan Freeman—I could listen to him talk about anything!—is very much front and center; he’s not just executive producing it. It features him, immersing himself in religious experiences and rituals all around the world. We’re also doing a limited series called Red Planet, with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and RadicalMedia. It is a hybrid scripted and unscripted series that explores mankind’s quest to colonize Mars. It’s going to be a big, badass, epic undertaking. There will be scripted elements that imagine a world where we have colonized Mars. It will be intercut with unscripted pieces in which we are interviewing thought leaders and scientists— people who are spending a considerable amount of time and resources working on the quest to colonize the planet. Imagine Interstellar meets Cosmos. Recently we announced a project with Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney called Parched, to be produced by Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions. Parched will take a hard-hitting look at a crisis that affects billions worldwide and is increasingly cause for concern among Americans: a future in which fresh drinking water is alarmingly scarce. And it is a unique model for us as this show will be created as a television miniseries and as a feature documentary that will have a limited theatrical release.
We are also in partnership with Scott Rudin. He has a firstlook deal with Fox Networks Group, which we are a part of. We’ve optioned a book about Chernobyl as a potential scripted series. And we’re talking about other exciting projects with him. We have this incredible advantage given our corporate parents. On the one hand, we have the National Geographic Society, a scientific institution that has been around for 127 years, that funds real science and research and exploration around the world. And we’re majority owned by Fox, so we have the opportunity to partner with Fox Searchlight and work with people like Scott Rudin and Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. I think we’re in a pretty great position. We feel very energized about our new direction. What you’re going to see from us is really going to be about quality over quantity: bigger, better and more distinctive hours. We’re focused on big scale, big scope and producing this content in partnership with A-level creative talent from around the world. [We’re rolling out] big marketing campaigns to support this content and living up to the promise of the National Geographic brand. TV REAL: How has the process of marketing a channel evolved as the media landscape has become so much more fragmented? MONROE: Brands are more important than ever. Given how much choice is out there, how much disruption, how much fragmentation, brands serve as organizing principles for people. They are a signal that something is worth one’s time. Big show franchises are absolutely important. You want big hit shows that are so mega they are brands in and of themselves. Brands serve as curators in this world where there is so much clutter to wade through. We’re in an enviable position to have a brand that actually has meaning and such positive affiliations. It’s critical that we create programming franchises that resonate. You need the best content. The best content is what’s going to prevail—but so will the most resonant and vital brands.
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National Geographic Channel revived the Explorer brand this summer with Warlords of Ivory.
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ANTHONY GEFFEN ATLANTIC PRODUCTIONS By Kristin Brzoznowski
From TV programs and IMAX films to apps to virtual reality, Atlantic Productions is tapping into the latest technologies to deliver unique factual-storytelling experiences. Atlantic is also a leader in 4K and 3D productions, with shows like David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef. This is one of many projects to come out of the relationship between the renowned naturalist and Atlantic’s founder, CEO and creative director, Anthony Geffen. A ten-year veteran of the BBC prior to setting up Atlantic, Geffen has amassed numerous accolades as a filmmaker and producer, including the honor of being the only producer to win the prestigious BAFTA award for specialist factual twice. Geffen talks to TV Real about his view on the future of factual production and its interplay with technology.
TV REAL: What inspired you to get into documentary filmmaking, and how has technology advanced factual storytelling? GEFFEN: I started making films when I was at university and realized that it is a very powerful way of telling stories—an expensive way at that time, and done in 16 mm. I like telling stories, but I particularly like the factual world because what goes on around us is absolutely fascinating. One of the things that [David] Attenborough and I have shown is that you can go to a place that you think you know and can work with companies around the world [to tell new stories] using new camera technology—macro aerial technology, octocopters, you name it! When you’re doing this in 3D, it’s incredibly complicated, but this gives us a toolbox that we can use to really surprise the audience. David and I both agree that the story is what matters, and nothing should get in the way of telling that story. But the fact that you can do it in 6K now (let alone 4K) opens up new platforms. Given the quality we are shooting with, our
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films are not only on television; they’re in IMAX theaters. That’s very exciting. TV REAL: Do certain subjects lend themselves more naturally to shooting in 3D than others? GEFFEN: Animals are very difficult. David was clever with the first choices of animals we decided [to film in 3D], picking animals that moved less. [Laughs] 3D at the moment is what I would call incubating, in the sense that it can be used in very high-end productions [but not for every platform]. There are new platforms opening up, though; with glasses-free 3D TVs and virtual-reality applications, our 3D content is definitely getting out there and being seen. While we’re in this stage, we have to pick subjects that are really going to make an impact, particularly ones that are close up. We’re going to have to go for the game changers. Plants are mind-blowing; insects are mind-blowing, and it’s those subjects where you really notice a difference by using 3D. TV REAL: What kinds of technical challenges does that add to the production process? GEFFEN: It’s quite complicated! To give you an example, we made David Attenborough’s Conquest of the Skies in 3D, which is the story of flight. We developed the first-of-itskind octocopter (drone), which filmed in 4K and 3D and could do all the things we wanted to. But it hadn’t really been tested and we needed it to work in some quite challenging environments. One sequence, for example, was set in a bat cave in Borneo. David was suspended 250 feet in the air waiting to do a piece on camera using the octocopter while
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David Attenborough’s First Life is a virtualreality project produced by Atlantic’s Alchemy VR.
a million bats exited the cave. The end result was phenomenal, but there were definitely challenges along the way! [Laughs] TV REAL: Is the decision to shoot in 4K more about futureproofing a program at this point? GEFFEN: There is no doubt that right now, at the high end, it would be silly not to shoot in 4K. The current reasons are mainly for future-proofing, because there are very few people who are going to actually be able to watch the content in 4K at the moment. I think there is going to be [slower adoption of 4K TV sets], because people are very happy with their HD TVs. But we’ll get there and 4K is a major differentiator. It is a beautiful medium. Kids growing up now are used to seeing things in incredible, ultra-sharp resolution. They have it in their games, so why shouldn’t they have it with their TV? TV REAL: How are you working with virtual reality? GEFFEN: About a year and a half ago, we set up our own division, Alchemy VR, and started talking to players like Samsung, Sony and Google to learn where they were going [with virtual reality]. They realized pretty quickly that we have the ability to tell stories in an unusual way and that these stories could translate well in VR. We built a team that is pretty unique and started shooting [for virtual reality] about a year ago. We now have a whole host of VR experiences. We have experiences that are about 10- to 15-minutes long, immersive, interactive, with real-time graphics. All are set in a factual world. Sometimes we might use graphics to get you into that world, but we’ve now learned how to use the cameras. It’s complicated, but it’s happening. It’s going to be pretty amazing! I’m not saying that VR is going to erode television; it’s a different medium, and a very powerful one. I think the two will complement each other very well. TV REAL: How did your relationship with David Attenborough come about? GEFFEN: I had known David from my time at the BBC, but I was working in a different area (I was in documentaries and he was in natural history). We remained friendly, but I thought he would be thinking about retirement as he was heading into his 80s. However, we started to talk about ideas and he said he’d love to work with me. I grew up with his programs so, of course
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I wanted to work with him, too! Initially we thought it would be one or two projects, and now that’s grown to more than ten. He likes the way that Atlantic works. With us, he’s experienced different things that he has never done before and really pushed technological boundaries, and he loves that! He’s such an inspirational guy. He’s 89 and some of the projects we are currently making are more ambitious than anything we’ve ever done before. TV REAL: When you set up Atlantic Productions, did you envision innovation and technology at the core of the business? GEFFEN: When I left the BBC, I had a mission to set up a company with a group of very talented people who would produce groundbreaking content that would speak to the world. I wanted to do ambitious [projects] that would keep television very relevant. Reality storytelling is fine; it’s very clever storytelling, but it is not crafted storytelling in the way that interests me. There is a massive appetite out there for this type of content. Half a billion people could watch a David Attenborough series in a year—that’s huge! That’s probably more than any of these reality shows. The vision I always had for Atlantic—whether we’re making series such as Time Scanners, where we used LiDARscanned ancient sites to find things that cannot be easily seen, or spending six years negotiating permission to get inside Britain’s House of Commons for the four-part series Inside the Commons—was to use a variety of techniques to tell stories in a different way. TV REAL: What areas of the business are you keeping your eye on in the short term? GEFFEN: Television is in a weird state of flux. The high end is booming; the low end is booming because of the cost; the middle is being crunched. So, we’re going to be getting even more ambitious. We want to go live with programs, because that’s a really cool way of doing [factual]. It gets people to the television set at a specific moment. Without a doubt, we’re also going to grow in virtual reality. It is a very different experience. The technology is there and it works. The core of the company will always be about storytelling, so we’re going to find those stories—in such areas as history, science, archeology, natural history—that are game changing.
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