Simon Andreae spent the better part of two decades working across the non-fiction television landscape on both sides of the pond – and the production coin – before launching his FremantleMedia-backed UK indie Naked Entertainment in 2015.
In the producer’s chair, Andreae has previously served as a founding partner of UK indie Optomen Television and president of LA-based prodco The Incubator. Meanwhile in the broadcasters’ boardroom, he’s held such senior titles as senior VP of development and production at Discovery Channel, executive VP of alternative entertainment at Fox and head of science and education at Channel 4.
His decision to launch London-based Naked was “as a way to bring all those experiences together in a way that I thought would suit me professionally and I would enjoy as a long-term project,” Andreae told realscreen in a recent interview.
Having returned to the UK last year after 12 years spent in California, Andreae’s prodco has already racked up a number of successful original and returning titles. The studio’s credits include Channel 5′s family survival series Stripped and Stranded (above) and Families Gone Wild; 5Star’s 100% Hotter; dating format Threesome Dating and Britain’s Best Boy Racer for Channel 4′s on-demand platform All 4; as well as E4′s recently announced transformation series My Hotter Half, in which couples send their best selfies to strangers and the one with the least “likes” is given a makeover.
Realscreen recently spoke with Andreae from his London South Bank office about upcoming projects as well as the crafting unscripted for new content platforms and where he sees Naked fitting into the non-fiction world.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
What was the decision behind departing Discovery to launch Naked more than a year ago?
I decided that I wanted to start a production company because it allowed me to be involved with the widest range of unscripted content and not be yoked to one particular brand or network or genre.
On the other hand, I wanted that company to be in the UK partly because there remains a very healthy appetite for adventure in the British unscripted market, and partly for a business reason in that the terms of trade are as such that producers in the UK, if they’re producing for a British broadcast get to retain the rights in their own shows. If we were lucky enough to have a hit, it seemed to me that the UK was the most sensible place to launch and nurture that hit and be able to monetize it internationally.
It almost seems a daunting proposition to launch a production company in today’s media landscape, with shrinking budgets and new company’s launching left and right. How did you get past those challenges?
I didn’t want to start with my back against the wall with no partner or backer. I wanted to be able to have the freedom to grow the company slowly and with some financial and strategic support. I spoke to three or four of the big consolidators – international production groups – and I settled on Fremantle…partly because it’s not a studio owned by a British or American broadcast network and because Fremantle has very good format and tape distribution around the world. They have 28 countries with Fremantle production companies.
You mentioned shrinking budgets, and it’s true, but I have never experienced budgets as a problem in unscripted production. I get more driven by the idea and the creative of a show, and if somebody wants to buy it, I’ll try and find the best home – I’m not encouraging people to under offer for our shows, but we’ll never make money a problem. We can make a show for $1,000 a minute, and we can make a show for $100,000 a minute.
You’ve worked both in the UK and U.S. markets. Do you have a strategy in place to create content catered to those territories?
Our strategy is to try and conceive ideas that are simple to grasp, that are original and fresh, and that are high impact. Once we’ve got an idea that we’ve molded into what feels like that, then we’ll start to assess what networks potentially have the most interesting need or space for that sort of show. We don’t really think about ‘Is this a UK show or is this a U.S. show?’ What we might think about is, ‘Is this an A&E show, an ITV show or a digital show?’
At what point in the development process do you know whether a series can be formatted to another region or territory?
The main highway of what we do is designed to be returnable factual entertainment formats, so some nights we’ll have the kernel of an idea and as we shape it, the first thing we do is what I call “The Triangle of Titillation” test – simple, original and extreme are the three things that I keep saying to my team. After that, I will sometimes apply a little acronym, which is F.A.S.T Track: Formatable, Attention grabbing, Saleable and Transferable. Formatable is how much legs has it got as an idea; attention grabbing so that it becomes of interest to other territories; saleable means there’s value in the tape of the original version; and transferable is if its formatable as a format and the format can be sold in different territories.
We do think quite early about trying to build a vehicle that feels both saleable and returnable and transferable as a format. If you can do that, and it doesn’t do anything to dampen or diminish the idea, it’s obviously good sense.
You’ve been on both sides of the production coin as a network exec, commissioner and as a producer. How do your past experiences inform your work now with Naked?
As a buyer, you’re overwhelmed with meetings, email and IP coming at you fast and furiously from every direction, and I think when you go back to producing that it does make you particularly aware that the buyer has to sort through a lot of ideas very quickly. It does behoove you to have something that grabs absolutely from the get go. I am as obsessed as a producer as I was as a network executive about the title and the topline, and when we pitch, we sort of build out our presentations almost like a pyramid. You never know how long that idea is going to stay on that buyer’s desk or how long they’ll have to examine it. Sometimes they’ll just look at titles, or decks or sizzles. You’ve got to make sure that your idea, when it’s collapsed into its shortest possible form, is still as clear and shiny as your longest deck or sizzle.
Can you tell me about Naked Entertainment’s growing activity in the unscripted genre?
In the States, we’re producing two unscripted pilots that I think show a big turn of the wheel in what types of storytelling and (emotional) affects one can bring to unscripted. Each of them is built around a technology or technique that has never been seen in unscripted, and I think they both are brave and confident commissions from their respective networks because in both cases when we started it wasn’t even totally clear that the technology would work. We’ve been developing them both for quite a long time to the point where when each of the networks triggered the pilot, we were most, but not all of the way down the track of developing the technology. Now we’ve done that in both cases, and we’ll be really excited to deliver them.