United Productions absorbs Survival and Partridge

As part of a move to streamline operations, Granada's United Productions has merged the history, science, doc and wildlife units, including Survival and Partridge, into one unit. And as with any merger, staff changes are trickling down the pipeline.
December 13, 2000

In a move intended to streamline operations and break down the barriers between factual genres, Granada Media’s United Productions is merging its factual production units – history, science, documentary and natural history – into one Bristol-based entity. Says Tom Archer, United’s new controller of factual programs, ‘As subject matters, they do sit happily alongside each other, I think there is a lot of crossover between them. They all need the same fundamental discipline of documentary-based program-making. In other words, it doesn’t serve any speciality in the new century to be kept behind a high wall, operating in isolation from the rest of what’s happening in television.’

Bringing together United and LWT

Granada is creating stronger links between its two main production arms in the south of England, United Productions and London Weekend Television. The two units now share a managing director, John Willis, and a director of programs, Marcus Plantin. Willis comes from United, Plantin from LWT. Both Tom Archer, controller of factual programs for United Productions, and Jim Allen, controller of factual programs for LWT, report to Willis.

However, the decision to merge spells the end of independence for United Wildlife’s prodcos, Survival and Partridge, which had continued to operate as separate companies even after their pairing under the United Wildlife umbrella. The new wildlife unit will have its own head of programming, who will report to United’s new controller of factual programs Tom Archer.

‘We will continue to have the brand names Partridge and Survival,’ notes Archer, ‘and we will try to strengthen them and clarify where they stand in the marketplace.’ He adds, however, that there will now be only one person in charge.

‘We’re looking for a new head of wildlife programming,’ Archer says. With the departure of United Wildlife managing director Paul Sowerbutts for Channel 4 International earlier this week, and the exit of Partridge executive producer Michael Rosenberg by the end of the year, only Survival exec producer Petra Regent will move over from the top tier.

‘There’s never been a joint head before, and that’s something we think is necessary and good.’ Archer continues. ‘I think that both of the natural history outfits, Partridge and Survival, are finding that they have to operate in a new world, a new era in which pure natural history is a far smaller proportion of the programs made.’

As part of the re-structuring, Partridge will be more clearly identified as a populist (i.e. presenter-led) program-maker, while Survival will continue to produce blue chip docs. Says Archer, ‘It’s unquestionably true that there is a significant reduction in demand for traditional natural history, but I don’t think this is because television audiences have suddenly lost interest in animal-based programs. Simply that natural history program-making hasn’t yet come up with the right format to continue to appeal to those audiences.’

In addition to management changes, the merger of United’s factual units will also result in staff layoffs in the new year. Archer explains: ‘There will be a thorough review of the workforce that we’ve got, and I think we clearly do have administration that is duplicated, because at the moment there are three setups. But I think it’s important to say that this is not actually being driven by the need to cut costs, but more by the needs of our customers. We should be an outward-looking, more dynamic, program-making outfit.’

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.