Archive for the ‘adoption’ Tag

Formats Unpacked: Long Lost Family

A classic TV format analysed by Adam Gee for Formats Unpacked – the published article is here

What is it?

Long Lost Family (TV series) 

What’s the format?

A factual TV series, eleven seasons in, broadcast on ITV. It helps people find members of their family lost through adoption. I pick it for two reasons: every time I watch it dust gets in my eyes (ok then, yes, those are tears emerging from under my glasses) and every episode is basically the exact same story, just with a different skin.

Each episode interweaves two different tales of hunting down missing mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, siblings. Both story strands culminate in a long-anticipated reunion. Television shows and films should always be an emotional experience and this format never disappoints.

What’s the magic that makes it special?

Although the contributors and locations vary between episodes, the basic story is fundamentally identical every time – and it doesn’t matter at all. That’s because it’s the most basic story in humanity, often revolving around the most basic question: “Did my mother/father love me?” Week after week we see people whose whole life has been overshadowed by this question. Finding out the answer is all they need to obtain a peace that has eluded them their whole life. 

The most frequently occurring scenarios include teenage mums pressured to give up their babies, siblings separated in infancy, dads who took off.

The emotional wheels of the programme are oiled by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell, both consummate pro presenters and very sympathetic.

The programme follows the best practice procedures of social workers in terms of how they bring people back together once a connection has been uncovered. Initially, letters and photographs are exchanged. The presenters always escort the contributors just to the threshold of the IRL reunion, as if preserving the agency and privacy of those involved. Of course, it’s a piece of theatre, making the privileged insight afforded by the TV cameras at the moment of reuniting even more piquant. Often the Long Lost Family team discovers missing people after all conventional methods have failed, sometimes after a lifetime of searching, so the pay-off for the participants is worth a bit of voyeuristic intrusion. 

After some 150 tales of separation, why does the gift keep giving? It is as relatable a format as you could conceive – pretty much every one of us has a mother and father, present or absent. It follows a most fundamental human narrative, the quest story – set in motion when child and parent are separated, it reaches resolution when they are brought back together, the most emotionally satisfying of culminations. Of course the team never fail to find the missing family member and the found family member never says “Fuck off, I’m not interested.” So research and casting ensure the power of the story is optimised. 

There are occasional variations such as “Sorry, turns out your mum died five years ago” but they are always offset by some element of reuniting like “…but the good news is you have a whole new family of siblings”. These add spice but the format would work perfectly well without them.

The format is based on a Dutch one from 1990 – Spoorloss. The success of the British iteration has given rise to a US version on TLC, one of a handful of international versions. 

A reviewer of the original series in a UK broadsheet had this sharp insight: “I can’t imagine this continuing for more than a couple of series – it’s all a little one-trick: once you’ve got the hang of the tracking-down-strangers part, there’s only so much to be astonished about”. Eleven series in it is clear she missed the point – people don’t get bored of separation and belonging, love and loss, longing and forgiveness, guilt and secrets, searching and connecting. We all feel it.

Favourite Episode

I can’t pick out a favourite episode as they are all pretty much the same. And all equally moving. 

I do however have a fond Long Lost Family memory from June 2015 when I was attending Sheffield Documentary Festival. There was a lively session featuring McCall & Campbell and two elderly lady contributors. It turned out that the two old women were siblings separated in infancy who had spent their whole lives, unbeknownst to one another, just 16 miles apart in Yorkshire but had only been reunited in their seventies thanks to this brilliantly human format. 

Similar Formats

DNA Family Secrets with Stacey Dooley on BBC2 is a chip off the old block but with more technical biological context.

Adam is a Commissioning Editor and Executive Producer at CAA. He was a long-time Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 and the first Com Ed of Originals at Little Dot Studios. Recently he has been working at Red Bull Media House and Ridley Scott Creative Group.

Nicky & Davina

Adoption Experience

Britain's Forgotten Children

Britain's Forgotten Children

Yesterday afternoon saw the launch of my latest project – Adoption Experience www.channel4.com/adopt – this is the thinking behind it:

“Adoption is an area of childcare and family life shrouded in misconception, myth and confusion. The best way to untangle the realities from the rumours and hearsay is to focus on real people’s real experiences.

Adoption Experience shares valuable first-hand experience of Adoption from every perspective – people who have been adopted, adopters, social workers, siblings, people left in the system, potential adopters, every viewpoint that helps give insight into the realities of Adoption.”

Now those of you familiar with the peripatetic, seemingly random wanderings of my oeuvre will notice distinct similarities between Adoption Experience and Sexperience. Here was the thinking behind Sexperience:

Sexperience enables people to share their first-hand experiences (as opposed to opinion or theory) of a broad range of sexual issues, problems and solutions in video and text form, thereby recognising the complexity and individuality of the subject through multiple perspectives and transcending the easy, often over-simplified answers of self-help manuals.”

When it came to the subject of Adoption, it struck me that the same grounded insight brought by a focus on direct experience to the realm of sex and relationships might really help to shed light through the fog of preconceptions obscuring my understanding of this other subject. For me what first sprung to mind was a nightmarish, intrusive process; social workers telling you you have too many books in your house or are too pale for your own good; a recent tale of an adoption imploding and tearing apart the family and marriage of my friend’s sister; compelling tales of retracing birth families; happy sorties filming childcare projects with Emerald Productions and ArkAngel Productions for Barnardo’s; various celebrity stories headed up by Mia Farrow (recently on hunger strike over Dafur – good on her), Angelina Jolie and Madonna; and a few lovely, sometimes quiet kids at my sons’ schools. So what I decided to do was to lift the infrastructure of Sexperience wholesale and reapply it to the subject of Adoption.

The production company/digital indie, Mint Digital, said it would probably work but they’ll be a 5% difference in the structures. I stuck to my guns that it could work as a pretty much 1-to-1 match and that’s what we went with. So, in effect, it’s my first attempt at an online format. (Another class implementation by Mint in the wake of Sexperience and Osama Loves. Video content by Betty TV. Reminds me, Sexperience has just been nominated for a Broadcast Digital Award [Best use of Interactive] and the Osama Loves documentary, Osama Bin Everywhere, is up for a Rockie Award at the Banff TV Awards in Canada.)

Now Sex is of universal relevance whereas Adoption is something of a niche concern, so I wasn’t sure what kind of take-up to expect. The signs so far are good and I feel like we’ve found our clear blue water. There’s little out there on the Web which captures first-hand experience of Adoption issues in a non-textual, engaging form. The first two hours, from a standing start, saw:

  • 29,448 pageviews
  • 5,578 visits
  • 5.3 pageviews/visit (promising since the user-created content which drives the creative concept was very limited, starting empty that very afternoon)
  • 170 experiences and questions were posted by viewers, many very illuminating and detailed

This came in unsolicited from a recent adopter today: “I think the site’s great – fantastic that it’s open to the public to post questions and responses about their experiences. This is what the adoptive and adopted audiences really need I think!”

The site was created out of the Channel 4 Cross-platform dept. as part of the Channel’s Britain’s Forgotten Children season broadcasting all this week. It springs from the themes of the documentary series Find Me a Family, commissioned by my equally mad-haired colleague Dominique Walker. This is the striking trail created by Brett Foraker of 4Creative to communicate the thrust of the season.

Where’s that kid gone?!

Britain's Forgotten Children

WATCH THE VIDEO: Jesus, where’s that kid gone?!

Britain’s Forgotten Children on Channel 4 from 11th May

UPDATE 23.iv.09:

Hi Def embeddable version now available:

Adoption and celebs

Jane Fonda (adopter)

Jane Fonda (adopter)

I’m a little way into a web project about Adoption and during the research phase I needed to put together a list of famousfolk who were adopted , have adopted or have anything to do with the adoption of children. I called on my new media colleagues at Channel 4 to help compile the list and within an hour we had a pretty substantial roster, with dribs and drabs flowing into the pool of collective knowledge for the next day or two. As the information doesn’t seem to exist comprehensively on the Web I thought I’d publish it here for the future use of whoever may need it for whatever reason. But they can put it in alphabetical order themselves 😉

Ewan McGregor (adopter)
Michael Winterbottom (adopter)
Kate Adie (adopter)
Kirsty Alley (adopter)
Mia Farrow & Woody Allen (adopters)
Jamie Leigh Curtis (adopter)
Emma Thompson (adopter)
Hugh Jackman  (adopter)
Steven Spielberg  (adopter)
Sheryl Crow  (adopter)
Nicole Ritchie (adopted)
Ian Wright (adopter) and Shaun Wright-Phillips (adopted)
Jamie Foxx (adopted)
Julie Andrews (adopter)
Pete Turner from Elbow
Oona King (adopter)
Michelle Pfeiffer
Fatima Whitbread
Buffy Sainte-Marie
Debbie Harry
D.M.C.
Jesse Jackson
Lee Majors
Nelson Mandela
President Gerald Ford
President Bill Clinton
Priscilla Presley
Ray Liotta
Steve Jobs
David Crosby (birth parent)
Joni Mitchell (birth parent)
Roseanne Barr (birth parent)
Billy Bob Thornton (adopter)
Brooke Adams (adopter)
Burt Reynolds (adopter)
Calista Flockhart (adopter)
Charles Bronson (adopter)
Diane Keaton (adopter)
Dianne Wiest (adopter)
George Lucas (adopter)
Isabella Rossellini (adopter)
Jane Fonda (adopter)
Kate Capshaw (adopter)
Kris Kristofferson (adopter)
Mercedes Ruehl (adopter)
Michelle Pfeiffer (adopter)
Stephen Spielberg (adopter)
Ted Danson (adopter)
Roman Abramovich
Rhona Cameron
Ice-T
Wendy James
Derek Jameson
Willie Nelson
Robert Newman
David J.Pelzer
Vanessa-Mae
Mordechai Vanunu
Ruth Westheimer
Samantha Morton
Sharon & Ozzy Osbourne
Clare Grogan (adopter)
Bruce Oldfield (?)
Anna Ryder Richardson (adopter and adoptee)
Chris Colquhoun
Toby Anstis (adopted)
Madonna (adopter)
Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt (adopters)
Nicky Campbell (adopted)
Dawn French & Lenny Henry (adopters)
Callista Flockart (adopters)
Sinitta (adopter)
Lynda LaPlante (adopter)
One of the Milliband bros (adopter)
Sharon Stone (adopter)
Meg Ryan (adopter)
Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman (adopters)

Feel free to add more via Comments for completeness and the greater good.

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