Call of the Wild

In 2001, U.K. conglomerate Granada Media opted to replace Survival Anglia and Partridge Films - the two brands (and former indie prodcos) that constituted its wildlife unit - with a single entity, Granada Wild. Two years later, the dust has settled and the unit is led by Brian Leith, who hails from neither Survival nor Partridge. MARY ELLEN ARMSTRONG finds out where the company is headed now
September 1, 2003

One year into his reign as head of Granada Wild, Brian Leith faces a challenging U.K. marketplace. The BBC, which Leith calls the ‘Holy Grail of wildlife on television,’ won’t buy from the prodco (the Beeb doesn’t consider Granada Wild an indie, given its ties to Granada’s ITV broadcasting interests, he says), and the other main U.K. terrestrials aren’t exactly packing their schedules with wildlife these days. Observes Leith, ‘I wouldn’t say it’s been easy finding homes for wildlife.’

His biggest job so far has been to stabilize Granada Wild. ‘What was needed here was a steady, reliable hand to see Granada [Wild] through what has been – for all wildlife production companies – a difficult few years,’ says Leith. ‘To some extent it was a matter of trying to steady our progress, to make sure we could get as many productions going as we could.’

In keeping with the company’s commercial strategy of drumming up as much work as possible, Leith is tailoring Granada Wild’s output to the tastes, demographics and commercial strategies of specific broadcasters. For example, he’s been trying to find something ‘bold and uniquely ITV’ to capitalize on initial discussions with ITV director of programming Nigel Pickard about developing appropriate wildlife shows for the channel.

Blue-chip still has a prominent place in the Granada Wild repertoire, which has worked to pull in both domestic and international partners. Leith is working with pub channel Thirteen/WNET New York (through the ‘Nature’ strand) and ITV on Jungle, a US$3 million three-part series that uses high-tech methods to explore the world’s most remote rainforests. The deal will also see Thirteen acquire reworked versions of the Granada Wild productions The Real Macaw and In the Company of Eagles.

Leith hopes his partnership with the two channels won’t end there – he’s in talks with Fred Kaufman, commissioning editor for ‘Nature’, to flesh out more copros that could work for ITV as well.

In total, Granada Wild has 20 hours in production, with another 17 hours greenlighted for late 2003 or early 2004. ‘I think natural history, after a difficult number of years, is going through a better phase,’ says Leith, ‘but I say that with some hesitancy.’

With the merger between Granada Media and U.K. competitor Carlton now inevitable in his mind, Leith is considering the potential fall-out for Granada Wild. Though he has been assured internally that a merger would not affect Granada Wild and its staff, he has concerns about how the marketplace will receive the prodco as part of a newly merged organization. ‘My only fear is that – just as it is now difficult to sell programs to the bbc – it may limit our options. For example, C4 or Five may not want to buy films from a company [that is perceived as] closely associated with ITV.’

As for the possibility of resurrecting one of Granada Wild’s founding brands, Leith says it could happen. ‘In the U.S. there is still strong interest in the Survival brand, so we may keep it alive in international territories where it’s still flourishing.’

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.