Tern Television, with offices in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London, will produce over 60 hours of programming this year for networks such as the BBC’s various channels, Channel 4, Discovery, Sky and UKTV. Executive producer David Malone, who joined the Belfast office earlier this year to expand the company’s factual slate, spoke with realscreen about the company’s plan for factual and why it was wise to jump into the extreme sports arena with Colin & Graham’s Excellent Adventures.
What made Tern TV decide to get into extreme sports programming with Colin & Graham’s Excellent Adventures?
This was an idea which was brought to us initially by two friends, Colin Carroll and Graham Little, who had become experts at various extreme sports including elephant polo in Nepal. We then worked out how we could [fit] their adventures into a television series that would resonate with our audience, and we came up with a format. The premise of the series is that these two guys turn up at bizarre international events somewhere in the world and announce that they are the Irish team. Unlike most television programs where access is negotiated in advance, access is negotiated on camera with all of the organizers, with all of the problems you would expect. The end result, I think, is effectively a documentary format where we see real progression as our two sporting heroes learn the ropes and take part in events that are bizarre and compelling.
Do you find networks are looking for more extreme sports related programming?
Networks are always looking for something that’s spiky, [programs] that are surprising. This is an example of a series that is definitely spiky. I think what networks are looking for are formats that leap out of the schedule in a world where we all have hundreds of channels to choose from. It’s very difficult to find something that’s distinctive, and I think this is.
What are your plans for factual at Tern Belfast?
Tern Belfast is in a very exciting phase because, traditionally, production companies based in Northern Ireland have not been hugely successful in winning UK-wide network factual business, which comes primarily from the BBC. There have been some successes, but Northern Ireland is not a major network production center. The figures at the moment are in the region of 0.3% [for] the BBC’s network factual output [that comes] from Northern Ireland. The BBC has now committed to increasing that to two percent by 2012 and three percent by 2015. That doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but when you look at the size of the BBC’s operation it is an enormous increase and a 10-fold increase in business.
We are now well geared up for that and have, in Belfast, network-standard production teams that are delivering for the network. We have two series that are just entering production now, both for BBC4. One is a 4×30-minute series which is called The Beauty of Maps and that needs to be complete by April of next year, and the other is a 6X30-minute series about extraordinary science images, Diagrams.
Tern TV’s Colin and Graham’s Excellent Adventures debuts November 4 on RTE.