In late August, realscreen will present its Global Pitch Guide, featuring valuable intel from commissioning editors and factual programmers from around the world. In this preview, ITV’s controller of popular factual, Jo Clinton-Davis (pictured), reveals what she’s looking for, and the best way to pitch it to her.
The right mix: Clinton-Davis says factual producers should be mindful that factual programming can actually be fun, or at least entertaining. ‘It should be captivating – you want your documentary to be talked about,’ she says. ‘I also think that people misinterpret the idea of formats – they think that formats have to be slight and silly. Actually, great, long-lasting formats have a real sort of purpose. We are doing a softer sort of format with Wall to Wall called Long Lost Family. It’s a format, but that doesn’t get in the way of fantastically rich, documentary-style content. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
‘But if you’re doing factual entertainment, you have to make bloody sure that there’s enough ‘factual’ – there’s enough rigor, there’s enough journalism and factual take-home,’ she continues. ‘I’m a great believer in take-out information and things that work on multiple levels.’
What’s been working: Clinton-Davis cites recent presenter-led programs featuring Martin Clunes (A Man and His Dogs) and Joanna Lumley (Joanna Lumley’s Nile) as series that clicked with ITV viewers. Clunes will be returning with Horsepower, a series examining man’s relationship with horses, produced by ITV Studios and Buffalo Pictures. ‘While it’s simple and obvious, it’s not dumbed-down,’ says Clinton-Davis. ‘It’s an intelligent and educational piece of program-making.’ She also says the 7:30 slot has provided a few successes. ‘We’ve created a slot out of nothing and have two or three brands that are working amazingly well [with] a mixture of escapism and aspiration,’ she says, citing Countryside, docusoap The Lakes and Grimefighters as programs that worked within what she refers to as ITV’s ‘celebrity-free zone.’
What she’s looking for: ‘I’m looking for nine o’clock, nine o’clock, nine o’clock,’ she emphasizes. ‘Killer brands that are a mixture of great, hard-won and hard-fought-for access, that have an appeal for the British audience in some way and have a familiarity. And obviously I’m looking for the next generation of lightly formatted factual. For us it probably needs to have the magic dust of well-known faces injected into those shows. If we don’t have that five-star access, then we need to think about what those soft formats are, where we can imbed our better known faces.’ Authored journeys, as seen above, are also part of the programming recipe. ‘ITV1 is a very particular animal, so only come to us if you’re really offering something definitive and exceptional that will hold its own against the toughest competition out there,’ she says. ‘Will it need a protected slot? If it does, it’s not for us.’
What she’s not looking for: Lifestyle programs, ‘tabloidy or tacky’ shows and programming that skews too heavily towards male or female aren’t top of the list, says Clinton-Davis. ‘But while you can put out your shopping list, there’s always that thing that hits you by surprise and you have to be open to that. You’ve got to be open to the odd mad idea.’
How to pitch: Keep it simple. ‘Two lines in an email,’ says Clinton-Davis. ‘For ITV, you’ve got to get it instantly – the title and the content are almost synonymous. Don’t pitch me an idea where you have to explain to me what it is – that’s not going to work for ITV 1.’ And while on the whole, ITV tends to work with UK indies and of course, its in-house ITV Studios, ‘there are the odd coproductions that we can do for the larger international stories. If a company from another country comes to pitch to us it’s harder – I have to be honest. But if it’s a great idea we’ll take it and make it work.’ Pitches should be directed to Katy Thorogood, commissioner for factual and daytime.
Keep an eye out for the realscreen Global Pitch Guide, coming later this summer, for more invaluable intelligence from international factual commissioners and programmers.