Coming from the broadcaster known for making factual entertaining, it’s no wonder that Andrew Mackenzie’s kingdom as head of factual entertainment at Channel 4 is such a broad one, commissioning programs as wide ranging as the BAFTA-nominated single doc Thriller in Manila to Supernanny. The department is also carving the way with new lightly formatted documentary series, such as Boys and Girls Alone, which observed young children living without adults for two weeks, and Adopt Me, a four-part documentary adoption series. Carol Nahra spoke to Mackenzie about how the department is evolving, and what will take up the copious airtime left by Big Brother after its final run next summer.
Andrew Mackenzie on…
The Factual Entertainment Department
A lot of what we do is the constructed popular factual: Jamie’s American Road Trip, Boys and Girls Alone, those high concept ideas. On the more entertaining end we have Mark Dolan wandering around doing a sort of Body Shock meets Louis Theroux [The World's Smallest Man and Me], and Justin Lee Collins trying to put Dallas back together. We’re really looking to develop entertainment-skewing ideas more as we look to fill the void that Big Brother leaves – we’ll be putting the ‘ent’ before the ‘fact’ a bit more.
The Evolution of Constructed Documentaries
Faking It, Wife Swap and Supernanny invented a genre in a way of constructed documentary – highly formatted, highly produced films. And it was aped in many other arenas, by many other broadcasters. When that becomes the norm – when you’re not ahead of the curve – you need to address that at Channel 4. We made a bold decision to stand down some still very well performing shows, like Brat Camp, and moved Wife Swap out of the white heat of nine o’clock. And to bring in what we hoped would be a new genre of popular factual programs that surprised people in the same way that those (others) did when they first arrived – Boys and Girls Alone was an attempt at that.
Making History Popular
I think what we’re missing is the next format that will give us the power that the list shows used to have; the way of people reassessing modern history and social culture, in a way that the list shows, as much as they are derided now, were incredibly popular and offered you content in a very entertaining form. I would love to find the next way we could slice our last 20 years of social change. It might be that we do celebrity, biography and personalized histories, or it might be that we bring back the lists in a different form.
What’s New for 2010
One of the most exciting projects we’ve got is a one-off but it might lead to something bigger. We’re filming the first year in the lives of newlyweds, but we’re doing it in a weird way. We’re filming 50 weddings that happened at the beginning of this year, just creating our own archive bank. Then we’re leaving them and not doing anything except interviewing them all in a year’s time on the first anniversary. The statistics tell us that remarkable things will have happened to those 50. The reason it excites me is that normally if we’d have said we wanted to do something about the first year of marriage we’d have picked three families, and followed them over 10 days of filming over a year, and got quite a traditional intercut doc. But this feels completely different. It came from thinking about shows like Dragon’s Den, which took a traditional thing that we had seen before in documentary a number of times – the pitch or the interview or the visit to see the bank manager – and it just said, ‘That’s the crucial moment in the film. What would it be like if we put 20 of those in one show and just sort of sliced it that way?’ That’s why that show is so brilliant. It’s an example of the way that you attempt to reinvent documentary genres in a different form.