Archive for the ‘family’ 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

Turn of the season (Day 25)

monsters-university-movie

OK, I admit it – I slacked off yesterday for one of the first times since I started. I read the end of a Joan Littlewood book for research in my outdoor office – i.e. picnic rug in back garden with the cat. And then I started reading a few chapters of the new James Bond book by William Boyd, Solo, which came out recently, enjoying the last of the autumn sunshine. I watched the end of a documentary about Joe Papp and made notes. So that was two loose ends tied. But I never did the other two of the four things I planned to accomplish. I didn’t finish my first pass at the Paul Arden chapter. And I didn’t set up five interviews for the Littlewood chapter. (Though I did set up one for the Advertising section). Then I knocked off early to take the younger Enfant Terrible to see a screening of Monsters University at a plush hotel viewing room in Soho, preceded by some Lebanese grub at our favourite, Yalla Yalla, in an alley off Beak Street. We had fun watching men emerging surreptitiously from the sex shop opposite, we enjoyed sharing the fresh hummous and haloumi, we popped in to say hello to tailor-cum-film-maker John Pearse (whose film Moviemakers was at the Cambridge Film Festival a few days ago) and who made my wedding suit, we enjoyed the buzz of all the girls outside the hotel waiting to see Madonna come in or go out, we mucked about while we were waiting taking selfies. The film was very funny and the Enfant Terrible asked a good question of the director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae from Pixar who did a Q&A after the screening – he was trying to find out why the 12 year delay between Monsters Inc and this one, representing in effect most of his life. I got to have a good chat with Dan afterwards about the process of working with Helen Mirren and the other actors. So it was a well spent day but not very productive. Perhaps that’s part of the point of the sabbatical I’m tending to overlook a bit, there’s an aspect of reward to it and recognition and battery-charging.

Parents Screw You Up – Adam Gee Archive #3

I commissioned this one around 2003 for Channel 4’s Family site. It was written by Tim Wright, my collaborator on MindGym. The title and aspects of the design are derived from an anti-drugs campaign of the late 70s or early 80s (Heroin Screws You Up) via a cover article in a university magazine when I was at college by novelist-to-be Wendy Holden, a contemporary of Tim’s and mine at university and fellow Girton girl. Plus of course a tip of the hat to Larkin. This light interactive offered you a route as a parent or as a child. It was commissioned at the same time as The Showbiz Baby Name Generator.

How much did you get screwed up?

How much are you screwing up your off-spring?

The pay-off

One of a pair

Archive #1
Archive #2
Archive #0

Songlines #2 – Rich Mix

What song means the most to you and why?

James aged 12 chose Dayenu (trad.)
HEAR HIS EXPLANATION HERE: Rich Mix MP3

“The Jewish perspective on thanksgiving is to magnify the kindnesses that God has performed for us. Thus, we dwell on each of the momentous things that He performed for His people as He brought them forth from Egypt. The refrain, dayenu, means that each of these kindnesses is sufficient to cause us to give thanks.”

If He had split the sea for us,
and had not taken us through it on dry land
— Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

Crossing the Red Sea

Crossing the Red Sea

UPDATE Jan 09:

Conor McK from Connecticut gave a remarkably similar answer – he chose the song James Connolly

HEAR HIS EXPLANATION HERE: ws_10007conormck.mp3

The man was all shot through that came to day into the Barrack Square
And a soldier I, I am not proud to say that we killed him there
They brought him from the prison hospital and to see him in that chair
I swear his smile would, would far more quickly call a man to prayer
Maybe, maybe I don’t understand this thing that makes these rebels die
Yet all men love freedom and the spring clear in the sky
I wouldn’t do this deed again for all that I hold by
As I gazed down my rifle at his breast but then, then a soldier I.
They say he was different, kindly too apart from all the rest.
A lover of the poor-his wounds ill dressed.
He faced us like a man who knew a greater pain
Than blows or bullets ere the world began: died he in vain
Ready, Present, and him just smiling, Christ I felt my rifle shake
His wounds all open and around his chair a pool of blood
And I swear his lips said, “fire” before my rifle shot that cursed lead
And I, I was picked to kill a man like that, James Connolly

A great crowd had gathered outside of Kilmainham
Their heads all uncovered, they knelt to the ground.
For inside that grim prison
Lay a great Irish soldier
His life for his country about to lay down.
He went to his death like a true son of Ireland
The firing party he bravely did face
Then the order rang out: Present arms and fire
James Connolly fell into a ready-made grave
The black flag was hoisted, the cruel deed was over
Gone was the man who loved Ireland so well
There was many a sad heart in Dublin that morning
When they murdered James Connolly – the Irish rebel.

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