We commission more than 200 hours of documentaries every year, ranging from major multi-part series like 24 Hours In Police Custody, 24 Hours in A & E and First Dates to shorter series and single films.
We passionately believe in revelation, innovation and compelling story-telling. We want to provoke thought, make our audience laugh, inspire change and make trouble. In our new era, we want to reflect more stories from around the UK by commissioning more authentic diverse voices from companies outside London. We also want the department to be the home of the authored voice - so would welcome emerging and established voices to bring us the best stories they want to make. We are especially keen on hearing from female and diverse voices.
We will always look for the following in everything we consider:
Authenticity. Do the ideas reflect the real world that feels genuine and have a contemporariness to them? Prison, 24 Hours in Police Custody, Skint Britain and the upcoming Criminal Justice series all have this
Revelation. Is the idea or the approach saying something new about the way we live today? Great British School Swap, Sex on Trial and the upcoming Generation Porn all speak to this
Innovation. How can the approach or technology help tell a story or reveal something new in a sometimes familiar space? Married to a Paedophile and the upcoming Cop Control are good examples of this.
Story, story, story. Everything we consider needs a story at its heart, whether this is 24 Hours in A&E, Custody, the upcoming Missguided or Prison.
Access. We want to be the home of big access series that genuinely tell the contemporary story of our lives. We will always push for a new approach or innovation to help offer a different perspective.
Not every idea ticks all these boxes, but we do expect a Channel 4 Documentaries commission to be distinctive and eye-catching.
Many of our ideas are present tense observational documentaries – whether they are made with self-shooting directors or 100-camera rigged shoots. We do, however, always want to experiment with more formatted programmes (The Great British School Swap, upcoming Dog Dates and Drag SOS), or factual drama (upcoming The Cure), or maverick and hybrid ideas (upcoming Jade and The Bankers' Fortress), if there is something in the idea that expresses a documentary curiosity about the world.
We broadcast a significant number of major 9pm series and this slot is our commissioning priority for 2020. We are particularly interested in ideas that question the world around us - this may come with access, to an institution, a community or even a business - but approached in an entertaining or innovative way. Access alone is never enough. Story, character and contemporaneousness are key. Our returning series such as 24 Hours in Police Custody, 24 Hours in A&E and First Dates are very invitational but we’re really keen to develop new ideas with that heart and humour. What is the next turn of the wheel of rig? They could be constructs (see below). We are particularly keen on returnable series which can go to scale.
9pm Short Series
For 9pm we also commission a wide range of shorter two- to four-part series which tend to be director-led. Some are immersive series set in a community (The Great British School Swap), some are in an institution (we have upcoming series about mental health, the NHS, two specialist units in the police and the benefits system).
The Secret Life of the Zoo and Supervet are established in the schedule and we are keen to develop other ideas. These sometimes (but not always) use a rig. We are particularly interested in ideas that will appeal to a broader audience at this time and we think it's worth considering more character driven precincts here.
This is a key slot. Crudely two areas are of interest - entertaining precincts that have potential for numerous and varied stories, and films or series that are edgier in subject and or more adult content. Historically we have commissioned Women Who Kill, Human Pups and Bouncers and many of the noisy single films looking at sex, identity, drugs, crime. We are keen to return to these areas at 10pm.
For the first time in the Documentaries department we are looking for a new face to front a number of films a year. We believe that person should have an extraordinarily enquiring mind, insight, warmth and wit. We have launched a search which Fozia Khan is leading on.
Additionally we are also keen to make one-off films that might be fronted by a famous face who has a particular point of view or personal story they want to tell.
In addition we are keen to receive fresh, surprising format ideas (like upcoming Drag SOS) that feel they are served by a documentary approach to filmmaking. We are the unit that developed some of the most long-running C4 formats like Wife Swap and Secret Millionaire, and commissioning a new generation of these series is a serious ambition for the department. First Dates and Hunted are now established, but we are keen to expand this output and have a small number of pilots in production.
We want to be the home for Britain's most talented documentary directors. We are looking for films that reflect contemporary Britain in a compelling and often entertaining way. Recent successes in this space include The Jihadis Next Door, Secret Life of Prisons, Gunshop, and Rich Brother Poor Brother. The stories we are looking for need to feel revelatory, distinct in approach and often, entertaining. Extraordinary access and a directorial vision are key.
FIRST CUT exists to launch the careers of new factual directors. It is open to anyone who has not directed a 60 minute film for broadcast on a terrestrial channel or BBC Three. Our aim is to develop the next generation of C4 documentary directors. Some of the biggest successes here include Angry, White and Proud, Last Chance School, The Extraordinary Case of Alex Lewis, Muslim Drag Queens and I Do at 92. We are launching First Cut: The Next Generation in 2020, where we are doubling the number of hours and placing a major focus on regional and diverse voices. CVs should be sent to Rita Daniels, and you can read the full brief HERE.
In addition, we are always open for other arresting and entertaining single films, for fast turnaround commissions that can bring a documentary perspective to a fiercely topical subject – My Son The Jihadi - for singles which can serve as pilot programmes for potential series, and for innovative use of the documentary form – The Trial, Blackout, UKIP: The First 100 Days.
For the first time we are looking to commission series for E4 for 2020. The key for E4 is young and entertaining first. We are looking to consider documentary precincts that young people will recognise - this might be access to a college, call centre, a community... Character is key, as well as story. We would consider casting in to precincts where appropriate.
Who to contact
For 9pm series and singles please contact Alisa Pomeroy, Fozia Khan and Rita Daniels. For talent led ideas contact Fozia Khan. For 8pm and 10pm please contact Rita Daniels. For E4 ideas email Janine Thomas.