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.’
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.’