WCSFP ’19: UK commissioners share what they want and why

TOKYO – The 2019 edition of World Congress of Science & Factual Producers kicked off today (Dec. 2) in Tokyo, with a panel exploring what UK factual broadcasters are looking for ...
December 2, 2019

TOKYO – The 2019 edition of World Congress of Science & Factual Producers kicked off today (Dec. 2) in Tokyo, with a panel exploring what UK factual broadcasters are looking for from producers.

The public and private sectors were represented, with speakers from pubcasters Channel 4 and BBC taking the stage alongside a panelist from commercial broadcaster ITV.

The panel was moderated by Sara Ramsden (pictured right), creative director of Love Productions, with panelists Jo Clinton-Davis (left), controller of factual at ITV; Simon Young (center left), commissioning editor at BBC; and Fatima Salaria (center right), head of specialist factual at Channel 4.

Salaria was first to outline how she approaches commissions at C4, stressing that her remit is far-reaching.

“We are increasingly looking for returnable history and science series,” she said, pointing to the recent celebrity-led WWII format My Grandparents’ War as an example of a strong concept.

While My Grandparents’ War could have worked at BBC or ITV, Salaria suggested that its framing was a particularly good fit at C4 by presenting history through family lineage and intergenerational relationships. “One of the real motivations for the series was that we wanted to make World War II relatable to a younger audience,” she explained.

Likewise, she pointed to Warrior Women, which sees Hollywood star Lupita Nyong’o learning about the real women who inspired the Marvel mega hit Black Panther, blending history with contemporary pop culture. “To me, bringing a younger and a new audience into the channel is fantastic, and that’s exactly what we should be doing.”

Meanwhile, Clinton-Davis stressed the need for a degree of consistency across ITV titles, bringing factual series in line with the channel’s best scripted content.

“We’re a channel of entertainment and drama, and our factual has to be the sister of entertainment and drama,” she said. “We can’t be the ugly sister. We’ve got to hold our own. It needs all that ‘oompf’ and high-octane feel.”

That doesn’t mean just pitching empty titles with mass appeal, of course. Clinton-Davis pointed to The Real Full Monty as a perfect example of what ITV goes for. The series tied into the 1997 feature film The Full Monty with a launch on the cult hit’s 20th anniversary, tapping into the liberated fun of the narrative film while also tying into a campaign to raise money and awareness for men’s health.

The ITV controller revealed her methodology when looking at pitches, through the use of a playful if not-quite-printable acronym that clever readers can decipher through her criteria: whether a project is fabulous/familiar, has a unique twist/universality, is compelling, promotes knowledge, has impact/intelligence, and a strong title that will grab audiences.

Finally, the BBC’s Young outlined upcoming changes at the pubcaster, with specialist factual operating under a slightly new model.

“The specialist factual department is staying together, but there will be two leads within the department: a lead across the history division and events, and a lead across science and natural history,” he said. That change will be happening around the end of the year.

As for content, Young wants access and talent-led environmental documentaries, including one-off docs, and he’s interested in producing projects from emerging voices to counter the insular nature of the industry.

One major factor to keep in mind is that, like The Real Full Monty, the BBC’s nature programming has to aim at impacting how we relate to the natural world.

“It’s all being broadcast under the ‘Our Planet Matters’ banner,” he said of the pubcaster’s natural history slate. “Conservation is at the heart of our programming. It’s not just an add-on.”

The 2019 World Congress of Science and Factual Producers in Tokyo, Japan, runs until Dec.

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