Sometimes, in pursuit of a truly authentic story, there’s a gestation period. Here, Red Arrow International non-scripted VP Harry Gamsu discusses the emergence of the pregnancy docuseries trend, and why that lifestyle content has the potential to resonate with viewers.
Many of the standout formats that have garnered audience attention over the past few years are ones that follow real people and real events over a meaningful amount of time. Shows like this, with often a whole year’s filming investment playing out before the audience’s eyes, carry real weight and feel like a substantial event that immerses the viewer in the participant’s journey. Formats such as This Time Next Year and Give it a Year (both from Twofour), and perhaps the greatest example of all – ITV’s Up series, use a more ‘soft formatted’ documentary style, allowing stories to develop at their own pace, while drawing the viewer in.
In contrast to the shock and awe of some shows, it seems that audiences still want honest, brave, unobtrusive storytelling with a feel-good factor. It’s all about creating unique shows which feel event-like, keeping audiences engaged and tuned in, and elevating the content above the ‘click-bait’ culture we are surrounded by.
One subject which requires a longer production period (as demanded by biology!) is that of pregnancy and childbirth; particularly when we look into rapidly changing ideas on what constitutes a ‘modern family’ and the ever progressive definitions of what it means to have a child in the 21st century.
More people than ever are opting to have children without being in a romantic relationship, and we are seeing a number of shows that are tackling this emerging trend, including Labor of Love — in development for Fox by Propagate Content; the Israeli format Pregnant & Platonic; and a new format from Red Arrow International called Pregnant with a Stranger.
Created and produced by Red Arrow’s Snowman Productions for Kanal 4 in Denmark, Pregnant with a Stranger may have a noisy title that draws people in, but the show itself is a genuine and heartfelt format that sees single women, all of whom have already decided to have a baby, given help and support to find the right father for their child.
The show shares the journey of these women and men as they choose each other as co-parents, while offering them expert support and guidance; and delves into the intricacies of a phenomenon that is rapidly becoming more commonplace — single people who are desperate to be parents, but circumstances require them to take a more unconventional route to having a family.
Crucially all of the participants are in the show for the right reasons, and believe that it’s better for the child if both mother and father actively share the responsibilities of parenting, even if they are not romantically involved. The women and men vary in age, and each comes with their own unique story and reasons for wanting to have a baby — from the time pressure of middle-age to younger women with serious health issues.
In the format, a team of experts — from family counselors to fertility doctors and sociologists — embark on a search to find suitable fathers, based on each of the women’s criteria. Testing the male participants physically and mentally, the experts then introduce a number of prospective fathers to the mothers. We follow their progress: from the women testing the men to ensure that they are committed to playing an active role in parenting; through to choosing the father and starting the process of insemination; agreeing on the terms of co-parenting and the involvement of the father during the pregnancy; and expectations for after the child is born.
We all know that TV has the power to break down social taboos; and we hope that positive and life-affirming shows which celebrate people who choose to go down a different path, contribute to this.
This article first appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of realscreen.