Factual entertainment commissioners from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are trying to find “a shape that feels original,” delegates at Sheffield Doc/Fest were told yesterday (June 9), during a panel session (pictured) which saw buyers laying out their wants.
In a broad discussion which saw some debate over what exactly constituted fact ent, Alison Kirkham, head of commissioning for features and formats for BBC1 and BBC2, said that the terminology was not as important as the idea.
“People get very caught up with the terms but broadly what we’re trying to achieve is something that’s popular and factual,” she explained, adding that the highest thing on her wishlist is something that can be returnable.
She said that rival network Channel 4 “has been strong in property for 15 years,” but that the BBC was now making strong moves into the space, highlighting Beeb titles Estate Agents and The House that £100k Built as good examples.
She also picked C4 show Gogglebox as the one program she wished she had commissioned. “At the heart of it, it’s about families and shared experience,” she said.
“When you’re a commissioner, what you’re most looking for is a shape that feels original.”
Jo Clinton-Davis, ITV’s controller of popular factual, echoed Kirkham’s views on labeling. “The public doesn’t care about the terminology – only commissioners care,” she said.
Top of her wishlist was presenter-led factual “where the presenter is really adding something.” She also told the audience that one of the key things she had learned from her previous post at UKTV was the importance of titles.
“Titles are incredibly important,” she said. “We spent so much time talking about titles.” She added that she was pitched a program at UKTV called Love and War, which was eventually retitled as Sex, Love and War.
Meanwhile, Liam Humphreys, C4′s head of factual entertainment, said that the broadcaster was looking for “fact ent which is PSB [or meets the public service broadcaster mandate] in an accessible, entertaining way,” with a focus on the network’s 9 p.m. slot.
He cited the Bear Grylls-fronted format The Island as an example of a stand-out show, but faced challenging questions about the reality show, which has come under fire amid accusations of fakery.
The commissioner stood his ground under questioning from moderator Steve Hewlett, arguing that the network and producers were transparent about the way the program was made. “I think we were completely clear about it. If you go online [to the Channel 4 microsite] it’s all there.
“What we’re about more and more, is setting up a construct and letting it play out naturally,” he said.