MIPTV ’16: Inside the BBC’s “Robot Wars” reboot

Chris Brogden (pictured, right), creative director for entertainment at Tinopolis Group, sat down with realscreen to discuss BBC2's Robot Wars reboot, which finds 44 robots battling it out in a bulletproof arena in Scotland.
April 5, 2016

Robots may not be taking over the world just yet, but they do seem to be invading the world of factual television.

The BBC revealed in January that its iconic entertainment program Robot Wars, which first aired from 1998 to 2004, would make a comeback on the UK pubcaster this year, and ABC’s BattleBots is now being shopped internationally by Sky Vision. And who can forget Nippon TV’s android-hosted series Mastuko-Roid, launched last October at MIPCOM.

Chris Brogden, creative director for entertainment at Tinopolis Group, sat down with realscreen to discuss BBC2′s science-oriented Robot Wars reboot, which he is exec producing alongside Tinopolis-owned prodco Mentorn Scotland, in association with SJP Media.

Brogden boarded Tinopolis in the newly created position in April 2015, with the aim of developing new formats for the company’s slate of 17 U.S. and UK prodcos, including Magical Elves, A. Smith & Co., Firecracker Films and Mentorn Media.

The 6 x 60-minute series – which is currently being edited – finds 40 “contestant” robots and four “house” robots battling it out in a purpose-built, bulletproof arena in Glasgow, Scotland. The six episodes consist of five qualifying rounds and a grand finale, with each episode starting with eight robots and only one advancing. In addition to a wild card robot picked by a panel of judges, six robots face off in the last episode.

Can you tell me more about the bullet-proof arena? Why is it bulletproof, to start? 

We had one robot that’s got a spinning steel blade as its weapon. That spins at 2,500 RPM which means the tip of it is going faster than a speeding bullet, and when that hits that bit of metal and that bit of metal flies off, and you add that speed and that goes off, effectively you’ve got bits of shrapnel flying off that are going as fast as bullets. So we have to have an arena that can withstand that.

It’s all to do with the differences in the reboot. The big differences in the robots are that they’re way more powerful and faster than they used to be. So the technological advances of the nine, 10 years in the materials they make them [with] are stronger and lighter, and the battery power is much, much stronger. Without being too technical, the lithium batteries are much smaller, which means that – [in addition to] the materials – the robots are just much more powerful.

Matilda, a house robot from BBC2's Robot Wars

Matilda, a house robot from BBC2′s Robot Wars

How big is the arena?

It’s 20 meters by 20 meters, and weighs 90 tons. It’s seven meters high, and it’s made of polycarbonate.

How many cameras do you have going?

In the BBC version, we had 11 cameras. We had one on a track in the arena. And that’s the other advance – the camera technology – because with GoPros we have a lot more cameras in the arena. We’ve got them inside and on the house robots, which we’ve never had before, so you’re much closer to the action in the new version.

Editorially, the update is that we just focused a little bit more on the stories of the people – the builders and the roboteers. The stories of where they come from, why they’re building a robot. It just gives it a little bit more human interest. The battles are fantastic - and the battles are still the focus of it – and everybody loves them, but there’s just a little bit more story throughout it. And for BBC2, a little bit more science and explaining how they work and what they do.

How big are the robots?

A big part of our format [is] the house robots. [Matilda, a house robot] (pictured, left) weighs something like 70 kg, and she’s got a flipper at the front and a circular sword at the back, which is made out of hardox, which is the stuff they make tanks out of. The four house robots are really quite serious. The contestant robots vary in size; none of them are quite as big as that but they’re all pretty powerful.

Why do you think the BBC wanted to bring Robot Wars back?

They wanted a big family entertainment show and I think when they asked us if it was available, Alan Tyler – acting head of entertainment for the BBC – said he always knew about it so he asked us what we thought. And then we went in and pitched this new version of how we would update it.

How is this different from BattleBots, because that also involves dueling robots.

That’s dueling robots [but] they don’t have house robots. We have house robots. They treat it more as a sports show; we treat it more as an entertainment show, and we have house robots that become the big center villains and characters of the piece.

Will you take the format to different territories?

We’d like to. We’d love to use our Glasgow location as a hub so other territories can come in and shoot their version in our hub. We’d love another BBC series to shoot there. That’s the idea.

Has there been any interest in the U.S.?

Within the group, we have A. Smith & Co. and they’re pitching out of the U.S.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.