MIPTV hit list: Trends in factual programming

VH1's Matt Hanna wants his own 'Nick and Jessica' show. Yves Jeanneau of France 2 is looking for more splashy events docs. And CHUM's Ismé Bennie is among the many who wouldn't mind finding the next Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
March 1, 2004

VH1′s Matt Hanna wants his own ‘Nick and Jessica’ show. Yves Jeanneau of France 2 is looking for more splashy events docs. And CHUM’s Ismé Bennie is among the many who wouldn’t mind finding the next Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

While many programmers continue to look for tried-and-true fare that capitalizes on recent successes, others are seeking factual programs that go against their typical programming slate. Japan-based pubcaster NHK, generally heavy on informational programs, has begun acquiring reality fare such as RDF‘s Wife Swap, as well as the Survivor-esque, BBC-produced doc Serious Jungle. Similarly, U.S.-based A&E, now more than ever slanted towards entertainment, is airing the Granada-produced docusoap Airline, along with the upcoming reality-meets-Six Feet Under series Family Plots. But the nets are not just looking for the next reality hybrid genre; it needs to be tailor made to deliver on their unique programming strategies.

Hanna, director of development for New York-based VH1, is looking for a show that breaks the mould of the channel’s pop culture, clip-driven roster. While clip shows such as I Love the 80s have been successful (and there are plans to do even more in the coming months) Hanna says personality-driven reality is on his wishlist.

‘We’ve done a great job talking about other people’s watercooler moments, but we need to do a better job of creating our own,’ says Hanna. ‘MTV developed celebrity-reality sitcoms, and we’d love to have our own version. Not to be derivative of what MTV’s doing, but there are plenty of other classic sitcom formulas we can tap into and find celebrities to play that reality role.’

Hanna is also considering an alternative to star-driven storylines. ‘We’d love a show that focuses on the real people who grew up within the pop culture universe we’ve become known for.’

Beyond the still-increasing demand for reality, traditional doc fare is being bolstered by an infusion of drama. Yves Jeanneau, head of docs at France 2, says the pubcaster’s greatest hit of the last six months – of any genre – was the late-February premiere of Pompeii: The Last Days. Coproduced by the BBC, Discovery Channel, ORF, and NDR (France 2 pre-bought the show), the †2.2 million (US$2.7 million) one-hour doc features dramatic recreations of the Roman city doomed by Mount Vesuvius’ 79 A.D. eruption. Pompeii and its 40-minute follow-up, The Mysteries of Pompeii (a straightforward science doc commissioned to 17 Juin Média and Transparences Productions), drew a primetime audience of 8.7 million. ‘Now, more than before, documentaries can go into primetime,’ says Jeanneau, who is currently seeking other event docs the channel can coproduce or pre-buy.

Ismé Bennie, director of programming and acquisitions for Toronto-based CHUM’s Bravo! NewStyleArtsChannel and SPACE, is another who follows the ‘more of a good thing’ programming philosophy, and would love to find the next break-out hit along the lines of Bravo!’s number two rated show, Queer Eye. For Bravo!, Bennie is in the decided minority looking for arts-related docs and performance specials. ‘Whatever is exceptional in any documentary relating to the arts, I’m interested in,’ she says. Meanwhile, SPACE is making a foray into the reality genre with Mad, Mad House, which began airing early March. ‘It’s a departure for us,’ says Bennie. ‘[If it works] I’ll look for more of those kinds of things.’ -with files from Matthew Sylvain

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