Earlier this year, Richard Woolfe was appointed as director of programs at cabsat entertainment network Sky One on the basis of his outstanding performance at rival channel Living TV. Commenting on the appointment, Sky Networks MD Dawn Airey said: ‘His achievements at Living are widely recognized and I have no doubt he will work his magic at Sky.’
Woolfe, who was voted industry player of the year at last year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, achieved two things at Living. Firstly, he managed to secure some top us acquisitions – notably Extreme Makeover (ABC) and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (NBC). Secondly, he commissioned Most Haunted, one of the few homegrown hits from the UK cabsat scene.
Using this as a platform, he then went on to commission UK versions of his US hits. At the same time, he built a block of paranormal programming around Most Haunted, thereby making Living the spook central of UK TV.
Looking back, Woolfe says Queer Eye was a big risk ‘because I decided to buy it on the strength of the title and a one-line description. I read about it on the plane to mip and was clinking glasses with NBC two days later. Focus groups are fine for spotting trends, but a lot of the best decisions in this business are gut instinct.’ It was similar with Extreme Makeover, a show that no one but Woolfe would touch with a barge pole. ‘People thought it was disgusting. But I could see the obsession with plastic surgery coming – now it’s part of the mainstream and every broadcaster is looking for copycat shows.’
Commercially, Most Haunted was a big risk, says Woolfe, ‘because it was my first commission in a subject area littered with failures. It was also a risk because you can’t guarantee a paranormal experience on TV every week.’
Sky One is a bigger brand than Living. So does Woolfe think he can take the same risks as before? ‘It’s a different job, but risk taking is absolutely at the heart of what we do. I think shows like Brainiac, Vroom Vroom and Mission Implausible are the kinds of things we do well which you’ll never see the terrestrial channels try. If I go to Dawn or (CEO) James Murdoch with an idea, they’ll just say, ‘Go for it.’ We’re certainly not risk averse like some of the mainstream channels.’