I think our key areas – Science, History, Adventure and Travel – all need to be looked at again. We need to ask how our home and work lives, our relationships and families, have been affected by this period of lockdown and Covid-19. We need to look to the past to learn lessons for the future consequences: 9/11 became about civil liberties and human rights, the financial crisis of 2008 created more wealth and inequality… What will be the long-lasting effects on society, humanity and science that Covid-19 creates? More authoritarian powers, more social inequality? Or positive political changes?
We continue the ambition of breaking new ground – in form, approach, and attitude. We will celebrate knowledge and opinion – but it will be a pleasurable watch. We will be unafraid of expertise and detail – but to deliver them in distinctive and unique ways.
Our bigger brief still stands: broad, returnable shows, full of understanding and learning that help us make more sense of the world and feel connected to each other. I’m hungry for new science and history voices with strong points of view, talent who have something to say about our changing world. We are actively looking for faces that are diverse for this.
At the top of my shopping list, I need to find a returnable history series that comes with co-pro. Possible ‘known’ moments of history but with a surprising angle/ approach/ view. As well as a popular returning history series, we want to be the only British television channel that challenges the received wisdom in Secret History, which will be relaunched as a strand that focuses on untold moments of history from a strong, unique POV. Sathnam Sanghera’s The Massacre That Shook the Empire and David Lammy’s Unremembered: Britain’s Forgotten War Heroes are good examples. We need new expert voices for the department; and to make sure the journalism bar is even higher. Ideas need to be big enough to attract a lot of press and noise because they’re genuinely breaking new ground or revelation or strong opinion. The Queen and the Coup, was the tale of how a badly phrased message helped to bring down the government in Iran. It had great detail and revelation in what some called, ‘a gimmick-free documentary that treated the viewers like grown-ups’. We will make sure BAME-led indies and N&R are the key companies driving this strand from now on.
Our History audience are people who gravitate towards it because it isn’t academic, it isn’t niche – it’s very much about big characters and big stories. Putin: A Russian Spy Story was a good example of compelling testimony that took you into this subject. It was full of forensic detail, revealing archive, all stitched together with strong dramatic storytelling… Who Killed Malcolm X on Netfilx, is another example of not just retelling of a familiar story but it had new revelations that has resulted in the District Attorney of Manhattan reconsidering reopening the case.
We would like to find a popular science series in the health genre. We love Netflix’s Diagnosis. What would be our version of that? I also love elements of The World According to Jeff Goldblum for Disney +, where he goes on a journey of discovery. It’s not just show and tell, it’s sometimes immersive and funny. The subjects are broad: trainers, jeans… it needs more detail but it could work for us. Who would our talent be?
Climate and post-pandemic will be two key areas for us in science. We will commission one big film a year that will tackle a big subject, possibly an international story like the pandemic fallout.
In a post Covid-19 world, how are we going to reflect that now? Who are the different faces and new challenges that show the world, its people and places, as they really are now? I desperately want a woman in this space – someone we build and grow alongside others. I’d like the travel to be more aspirational rather than challenge led as we have SAS: Who Dares Wins for that.
To be honest to do the more audacious event pieces we love in SF, we need to strengthen partnerships and co-commission with Broadcasters around the world to commission them. At the moment we work with Europeans, US and Australian networks and streamers. We also work with AFP more and aim to commission more co-financed programming in the future. I believe that collaboration and creativity are at an all-time high, with numerous discussions taking place with third parties and colleagues around the world, including the PSBs, on how co-production deals can fund more expensive programmes.
We will help you navigate these conversations but I want to make more of these financial conversations happen earlier in the pitching process, NOT at the point of commission or failure to achieve tariff.
Notes on the team
Jonah Weston leads on science and adventure. Shaminder Nahal leads on Arts and Topical. Jonah and Shaminder are London based. If you are an indie outside London you should, in the first instance, pitch to the commissioning editors based in Leeds, Harjeet Chhokar and Will Rowson, and Bristol, Sacha Mirzoeff. They are Factual commissioning editors and pitch across the entire slate including Documentaries. It’s worth noting that, for the most part, the Leeds team look after companies north of the M25 and Scotland; Sacha looks after the west of England and Wales and London commissioning editors look after Northern Ireland.