We all want our programmes to challenge what viewers think they know about the world. We want unexpected viewpoints; provocative ideas that might be too strong for other channels; timely and topical stories that react nimbly to events. C4 should be the home of campaigning storytelling. You should be bringing us ideas for programmes that start conversations, films that people will recommend to each other alongside the hit dramas of the moment like Succession and Chernobyl, that’s the scale of our ambition.
We want stories that will cut through and make huge impact. We don’t want your middle-of-the-road-ideas – we want ideas that will get people talking, win awards, and have pleasure-rich content. We have a broader licence to do this more than any other broadcaster, and we need you to help us achieve this.
Remember this, we are the department where almost anything is possible in terms of form, execution and subject area. We have the freedom to do live events, constructs, formats and docs, bringing subjects as diverse as engineering, dance, politics, identity, medical ethics, adventure, survival, culture and the natural world to life in an inventive, entertaining and sometimes shocking way.
History - lead commissioner Fatima Salaria
We are keen to look at more contemporary history, which can take a moment, an era or person as its starting point. The BBC’s Stephen Lawrence is one example, the forthcoming Jade Goody series a more unexpected one.
We also really like the idea of doing a bit more dark, uncomfortable, inconvenient history – we’d like to do more history with revelation and journalism at its heart.
That might mean key players breaking cover, documents coming to light or a treasure trove or archive of the type that gave Wild Wild Country its core.
We would like you to consider ideas that have the potential to return. Think about compelling testimony and fantastic storytelling to really take you into these subjects so we can look at the forensic detail and the reasons why people made those decisions. How can we tell these stories in a new exciting immersive way that makes us think differently about that period or appreciate the discovery but makes it returnable?
We are searching for more challenging, opinionated films, edgier singles that have a really good use of presenting talent to tell a difficult history, using the presenter who might have their own personal story to tell but can then broaden it out by seeing how things have changed, but key to us is the telling of the story through people and their lives.
Knock Down the House, the Netflix account of progressive democrat women standing in Primaries took us inside grassroots political campaigns; it was a real life West Wing – and it had plenty of drama because it was in the moment. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grew in front of our eyes from a neighbourhood campaigner to a potential stateswoman. What are the next processes and events we can have a front row seat at? We would know the beginning of these films when we commission them but not the end…that’s an exciting thought and a refreshing change from the anniversary journalism that dominates the schedule.
We want that strand to make noise again. We would have commissioned at once a film that asked the question, ‘can the legacy of Martin Luther King survive the latest revelations from the FBI archive?’. But to commission that we would have needed someone to come to us with the documents.
Another area we want some new thoughts on are our Archaeology films – we know these get audiences, but we want to reinvent and reinvigorate – it’s time to turn the dial on these films. Instead of just following a dig in Egypt – let’s think editorially about the countries we are doing these programmes in – Egypt/Sudan, places that have a fascinating and rich cultural story. These countries have people who are just as passionate about conservation, who are also leading the way – rather than being the bystanders they should be part of the story.
The best way to tell us about an idea is to e-mail a top line and a short description to Fatima Salaria (Fsalaria@channel4.co.uk)
Science – lead commissioner Jonah Weston
Our world is changing at often dizzying speeds. From amazing tech breakthroughs to unsettling new evidence of our impact on the planet – we are living through a time of unprecedented change. How we respond to that emotionally, ethically and scientifically, is at the heart of what science on Channel 4 is all about.
Our films shouldn’t just ‘follow the scientists.’ They should be bigger, braver, and more opinionated than that. We should be making news, not reporting it, coming up with the stories, and experiments that the scientists don’t have the budget, remit or audacity to carry out themselves.
That same approach applies to how we want to tell stories too. What's the most entertaining shape we can put on a subject? Like the best dramas we want to show, not tell. Where would a fact ent or docs approach take a film or series? We want to put the emotion and jeopardy of a subject front and centre. We have just commissioned two programmess that encapsulate both these approaches perfectly - one a fact ent approach to an issue that could have been told a million ways, the other, a story-led approach that grounds the films in the human centre of the subject in a way that a more Horizon/Truth About… approach wouldn't.
We don't have hours and hours of science hours, so we are looking for subjects and approaches that will really make an impact and resonate with audiences. We are on the verge of some unprecedented changes in how science impacts our lives. How can we reflect that? What are the issues/areas that alter our lives most radically in the years ahead, and how can we turn that into 'must see' TV?
What does adventure in 2020 look like? How can we make adventure feel relevant and accessible, not something reserved for Sandhurst types trudging up the next mountain or down the next river 'because it's there.' Race Across the World was a more honest look at what adventure looks like for most of us. How can we reflect that with more urban adventures, different faces and new challenges that show the world, its people and places, as they really are?
We are very keen to push into this space. But what does it look like on C4? I think the big narrative here for us is how we make programmes that question our relationship with animals and the environment, and reflect the reality of what’s really happening, not some idealised vision of a pristine wilderness. Stunts, campaigns, inspiring calls-to-action, we’re open to all and every suggestion, as long as you could only find it on Channel 4.
The best way to tell us about an idea is to e-mail a top line and a short description to Jonah Weston (Jweston@channel4.co.uk)
Arts - lead commissioner Shaminder Nahal
We would like our arts films to change the way we think about the world now. We tend not to make programmes about artists; we commission artists to make programmes about us. In other words, we ask artists (in the broad sense, i.e. singers, dancers, photographers etc. too) to author the films. We don’t want to focus inwards on the arts world itself (profile of a dancer; documentary about putting on a play; survey of Renaissance painting), but to look outwards at the world - to take on subjects and themes that might appeal to a peak-time audience. Our most successful arts programmes see artists tackle a subject, story or setting that might otherwise be commissioned as a 9pm or 10pm documentary series, but open up it up in a new way through their work. We want to take on challenging contemporary issues and immerse ourselves in fascinating places. See Grayson Perry’s recent series Rites of Passage which looked at how we mark key moments in our lives – birth, death and coming of age - or Akram Khan’s The Curry House Kid which looked at the immigrant experience and his experience of racism. We want to immerse artists in exciting places and worlds – we would love access to places and people we don’t normally get to see. For instance, Lemn Sissay spent time creating poetry with children in care in BAFTA nominated, Coventry for Superkids: Breaking Away from Care. Our Artist in Residence series featured Rachel McLean in a shopping centre, Bryony Kimmings in a sex clinic and Tai Shan Schierenberg in a football club. We want to push boundaries, break taboos and tackle challenging subjects in new ways, like the programme 100 Vaginas.
We are also looking for big, broad pleasurable pieces using an artistic form to tackle topical issues. Our Gay Wedding: The Musical marked the legalisation of same sex marriage. We would love you to think big and aim for the most exciting people working in arts and culture, who viewers would love to watch.
Arts programmes that jump straight into the middle of the national conversation are part of a long Channel 4 tradition - think of Penny Woolcock’s version of The Death of Klinghoffer, Jeremy Deller’s and Mike Figgis’ Battle of Orgreave, and Steve McQueen’s Hunger - and we want to continue in this vein, working with the country’s most creative, subversive and imaginative talents. Please remember the Channel’s old motto: ‘Make trouble; do it first; inspire change’. That should be truer of our arts programmes than of anything else.
We are looking for pieces that make sense of the tumultuous times we are in - not just politically, but as a divided country grappling with everything from technological change to inequality. The approach could be polemical - or a view from inside a specific precinct. What it must be is surprising, challenging, creative and needs analysis of how we got here.
We are looking for challenging takes on contemporary debates and issues. Talents who really have something to say beyond clickbait hot takes. Surprising and entertaining ways of getting under the skin of Britain and the world today. See Gary Younge’s Angry, White & American.
Returning Series – Nicola Brown
Nicola is our minister without portfolio - unlike the other commissioning editors she isn’t working to a subject brief but instead is looking for the next generation of returning series and bold high concept programming.
Her production experience encompasses high profile C4 series across the whole of factual - from 24 Hours in A&E, to Educating..., Secret Life of 4 Year olds, Hunted and The Island. With this in mind, you can bring her everything from returnable formats, documentary constructs or bold stunty singles, any ideas of scale and ambition will be gratefully received.
The best way to tell us about an idea is to e-mail a top line and a short description to Nicola Brown (Nbrown@channel4.co.uk)
So just to summarise, really think about the ideas you are bringing to us – do these words encapsulate your idea?:
Challenge and question authority
Campaign for change
Provoke and make trouble
To summarise: how to pitch and who to pitch to
The best way to pitch an idea to us is to e-mail a paragraph or two outlining the proposal and telling us what we’ll see. If it doesn’t appeal to us at that length it won’t work in the listings or the EPG; if it does, we’ll happily meet and discuss it further. Commissioners’ particular areas of interest and responsibility are listed above and below, and if you have an idea that falls clearly into one of them, please do approach that commissioner first. But we all rove beyond those briefs so feel free to send uncategorisable ideas to whomever you’re currently having the best conversation with - or Fatima Salaria in the first instance