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The towering complexities of Babel

You have a great idea - it is really blue chip, takes you all over the world, and will answer the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. And to cap it all off it's a sure-fire ratings winner. Trouble is it's going to cost, and you need several coproduction partners from both sides of the Atlantic to pull it off. The first coproducer tweaks the idea a bit and feels like they own it. The second coproducer tweaks it a bit more, and then the third coproducer says they want a presenter -
November 1, 2006

You have a great idea – it is really blue chip, takes you all over the world, and will answer the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. And to cap it all off it’s a sure-fire ratings winner. Trouble is it’s going to cost, and you need several coproduction partners from both sides of the Atlantic to pull it off. The first coproducer tweaks the idea a bit and feels like they own it. The second coproducer tweaks it a bit more, and then the third coproducer says they want a presenter – and one who is going to be totally ‘embedded’ and ‘immersed’ throughout the series.

So, you go back to the first two coproducers and one of them is happy to have a presenter so long as they are involved in the selection process. The other still wants the show without a presenter and asks you to shoot the sequences accordingly – ‘it’ll be easy’ – but the dollar signs are already spinning round in your head, as you know it will be almost impossible to afford.

So, after months of wrangling, your great idea has one partner who wants a UK host, one partner who wants a US host, and one partner who doesn’t want either, and besides which, it needs to be translated for other regions anyway.

The above scenario may seem like an exaggeration, but I am sure some of you know it isn’t too far fetched. So what’s the best way to square this particular circle? Experience tells us the way to solve the presenter problem is:

1) In the UK and US, it is best to suggest presenters on fully funded shows, and sadly that rules out so many of the more adventurous high-budget shows.

2) Pick an international host that will work everywhere but, apart from a small handful like Bruce Parry (The Great Race, Going Tribal), the chances of this happening are slim.

3) Think of ideas where it would be impossible to use a presenter!

Don’t get me wrong, I love presenters. They breathe life into familiar topics and make some narration-led programs look very old fashioned. At Pioneer we have just completed a series on Alaska with a well-known American host – fortunately fully funded. With him as our guide, the shows are elevated to a new status and will definitely attract a better audience share. (I recently watched the BBC’s Incredible Animal Journeys with Steve Leonard. I don’t normally watch wildlife films, but by using a presenter who chases whales, polar bears and the like around the globe, they have come up with one of the best nature series I have ever seen.)

I guess option two is ultimately the best, but it is also the hardest. Here at Pioneer, we are putting huge efforts into finding and testing new credible presenters on both sides of the Atlantic – looking for what are essentially undiscovered talents who can work in their own territory and ideally beyond. Currently, it seems British presenters can work in the US, but you rarely see it working in the opposite direction. I think the BBC4 decision to use American scientist Michu Kaku to present some of its science series is great – after all, he is one of the greatest thinkers of our time and deserves to be seen around the world.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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