Global creator, producer and distributor is aiming to be the one-stop shop for everything factual
ITV Studios has long been known as the go-to place for fiction, and this year has been no exception – with a remarkable number of viewers showing up for its original dramatic fare. But the ITV Studios crew isn’t satisfied with that. No, it wants to be known as the go-to shop for non-fiction as well.
“We’ve been leaning into giving people escapist television they can really enjoy, really learn from, and really just have an emotional connection with,” says Julie Meldal-Johnsen, EVP of Global Content at ITV Studios.
“My quest for the last four or five years has been to really up the fabulousness of the non-fiction slate because there’s been such a lot of attention on drama. Non-fiction was quietly doing its thing in the background without much fanfare, but there are some amazing stories being told.”
So, ITV Studios has dedicated itself to spreading the word about these true-life stories – and one of the most readily obvious ways they have done that is through a renewed commitment to natural history.
Cue AYear on Planet Earth (6 x 60) produced for ITV, FOX Nation, ARD Group and Tencent Video, by Bristol-based Plimsoll Productions in association with ITV Studios. Narrated by actor Stephen Fry, this is a dramatic blue-chip series following a story arc that takes viewers around the planet through four seasons. Begun over a year ago, the series is set for release next year.
ITV Studios also recently picked up rights to Great Barrier Reef: The Next Generation from Northern Pictures – the prodco behind the ITV hit Magical Land of Oz, coproduced with Oxford Scientific Films. Both add to an ever-growing collection of spectacular natural history programming.
On the lighter touch side, there’s new series The Pet Show (Lifted Entertainment), hosted by Dermot O’Leary and Joanna Page, which celebrates the UK’s obsession with animals. That joins long-running series like Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs (MultiStory Media) on the wildlife slate.
“Audiences have already been telling us that they love natural history. So, we’re not at the start of that journey,” Meldal-Johnsen says. “It’s a wonderful way to escape. It’s a wonderful way to learn. You can watch natural history with your whole family and it’s evergreen.”
ITV Studios is building on other fronts as well – including in history, science and engineering.
One of the most noteworthy efforts is Caesar’s Doomsday War and Lost Cities of the Trojans from Pernel Media. Both series have recently been added to ITV Studios’ well-established history collection which includes the multi-award-winning series Up from the late director Michael Apted.
But, as Meldal-Johnsen is quick to point out, escapism means different things to different people. So, it hasn’t all been about science and nature. Well, unless you count human nature.
ITV Studios has upped its game in the true-crime area as well. Consider the new two-hour special Fred and Rose West’s Secret Murders, where the production team at Blink Films not only cover the duo who rocked Britain with their heinous actions – they also help lead the investigation, actively participating with police. Add that to several more new shows, like Death on the Common: My Mother’s Murder (Monumental Pictures, Angel Station & Hatchling Films), No Body Recovered (ITV Cymru Wales), and long-running series like 24 hours in Police Custody (The Garden), and you have a noteworthy crime slate, too.
And, while crime is enjoying a renewed renaissance, ITV Studios isn’t about to abandon series with broad appeal. Or, as Meldal-Johnsen puts it: “People still love watching fabulous people in fabulous places.”
Don’t expect the studio to walk away from hits like Love Island (ITV Studios), Million Pound Pawn (Twofour) or any of its other leading factual.
So, with so much going on, how do you get the balance right?
“I’ve got a really good team,” she says. “They work really hard making sure our clients find shows. We work really hard ensuring that we’ve got a supply coming through – and if we feel like there are gaps, we go hunting. We pick up the phone and call producers that we know make great content. We take a very long look forward into the future.”
ITV Studios will be showcasing all its latest non-scripted shows on Wednesday, September 22nd during its Non-Scripted Festival, part of ITV Studios Fall Festival. Hosted by presenter Julia Bradbury, the Non-Scripted Festival includes a world-exclusive preview of the new landmark natural history series A Year on Planet Earth (main photo) and an interview with its show producers, the latest series from the producer of Inside Monaco and much more.