Archive for the ‘tv’ 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

Hastings vs Frith Street: The birthplace of TV

One way or another I spent a lot of time around Soho last week, including at Bar Italia on Frith Street. Above it, not that obvious unless you happen to glance up, is the best Blue Plaque in London, epitomising British understatement. One of the most influential inventions of the 20th century and all it gets is one simple sentence of a dozen words. I took that sentence as gospel and have spent decades in the secure belief that telly came into being in that small room above what has been a classic London coffee bar since 1949, what was Logie Baird’s lab back in 1926. But that’s not really how invention and innovation works…

I went to Hastings a few days ago, to visit Hastings Contemporary art gallery (it turned out to be shut unusually due to staff shortage caused by the Covid pandemic). As you enter the town there is a mosaic road sign that says: “Hastings & St Leonards: the birthplace of television”. My world shook on its axis. I’ve spent my entire career in Television, I have a stake in it, I need to know the basics.

I also have a small stake in Logie Baird having delivered the John Logie Baird lecture at Birmingham University a good few years ago with Dr Christian Jessen of ‘Embarrassing Bodies’.

So what’s the connection between Logie Baird and Hastings? In short, before the Soho demo in 1926, Logie Baird (let’s call him JLB for convenience) experimented with the transmission of TV images in his house in Hastings. That was from 1923, three years before Frith Street.

21 Linton Crescent, Hastings, East Sussex

The house was at 21 Linton Crescent. It has a rival blue plaque from The Institute of Physics, made up of much the same words as the Soho one but in a different order. JLB came to live in the town early in 1923 while convalescing from illness and hoping to benefit from the sea air and more benign South Coast climate. Through to mid 1924 he carried out experiments that led to the transmission of the first television pictures. Similar to Edison’s famous thousand duff light bulbs, the 1926 Soho demo and the 1924 Hastings one both rested on extensive trials, tests and experiments. On failures Edison, responding to a reporter asking: “How did it feel to fail a thousand times?”, said: “I didn’t fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with a thousand steps.” Edison has a part in the history of the invention of TV as he speculated early about the possibility of telephone-like devices that could transmit and receive images as well as sounds.

So it was in Hastings that JLB created the first televisual image, a shadowy outline of a Maltese cross. The contraption he constructed to generate this image was made from a Heath Robinson collection of household objects including lenses from bicycle lights, scissors, a hat box, darning needles, a tea chest and sealing wax .

The first transmission of moving TV images took place in February 1924 above a shop in Queen’s Arcade, Hastings which JLB had rented for his workshop. In July that year JLB received a 1,200-volt electric shock, but got off lightly with just a burnt hand. In the wake of the incident he was asked to leave Queen’s Arcade by his landlord, Mr Tree. That’s when he went to London.

From 25th March 1925 over a period of three weeks JLB gave the first public demonstrations of moving TV images at Selfridges. On 26th January 1926 he gave that Soho demonstration, the world’s first of true television, to fifty scientists in the attic room above Bar Italia.

In 1929 yet another plaque enters the story – it was unveiled at a ceremony which Baird attended at Queen’s Arcade.

Rewinding just a little, in 1927 JLB demonstrated his television system over 438 miles of phone line between London and Glasgow. In the wake of that he formed the Baird Television Development Company (BTDC). The following year BTDC achieved the first transatlantic television transmission, successfully sending pictures between London and New York. Also in 1928 he pulled off the first transmission to a ship in mid-Atlantic. During his astounding career he also did the first demonstrations of both colour TV and stereoscopic television.

JLB eventually returned to East Sussex to live out his twilight years in Bexhill-on-Sea. Then he went dark and disappeared in a little dot.

Television quotation

Imitation is the sincerest form of television

Fred Allen, comedian (1894-1956)

Allen’s quip is of course derived from one of Oscar’s:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”  

or to give it its full run:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Oscar Wilde

 

FRED ALLEN with Cigar – performing into an NBC microphone 1948
OSCAR WILDE with Cigarette

Little Dot Studios activities in the USA

Increasingly over the last few months I have been working and commissioning at Little Dot Studios with more than half an eye on the USA. To that end I have been working closely with Paul Woolf, formerly of Barcroft and Maverick, and my old colleagues Dan Jones and Alex Hryniewicz of Little Dot. Here is a piece about it from today’s Broadcast

poster real stories absent from our own wedding documentary film montana marriage

A mid-form online Original documentary I commissioned for Real Stories – shot in Montana by Debbie Howard

Little Dot taps up Barcroft exec for US unscripted role

Paul Woolf will supercharge development of indie’s factual strand

Little Dot Studios is ramping up its Real Stories doc strand across the Atlantic with the appointment of its first US head of unscripted development.

Barcroft head of development Paul Woolf has been hired to supercharge the development of the All3Media-backed indie’s factual brand, as it aims to commission more long-form docs and series for US networks and platforms.

Woolf has already commenced in the East Coast-based role, reporting into Little Dot director of content Dan Jones.

The former Maverick TV development director said he was delighted to join a team that with “an incredibly broad and deep understanding of both TV and social platforms”.

Jones added: “Paul is a fantastic development talent and his arrival allows us to make a sustained push in the US, which is hugely exciting.”

During his time with Barcroft, Woolf was behind Netflix format Amazing Interiors and worked on a range of short-form projects for the outfit’s in-house digital platforms.

He joined fellow All3Media indie Maverick TV as US development exec in 2008, relocating to the UK in 2010 to work on BBC2 social experiment Old School and Billy Connolly’s Route 66 for ITV.

Real Stories, which includes the likes of My Son the Jihadi and America’s Poor Kids, is headed up by former Channel 4 multiplatform commissioner Adam Gee.

Little Dot said it generates around 1 million cross-platform views a day on sites such as YouTube. The vast majority of viewers are aged 16-34 and more than 71% of its audience hail from the UK, North America and Australasia.

Shows from the strand are also available via a $3.99 (£3) per month SVoD app, which launched earlier this year.

Little Dot has been busy hiring this year, having already appointed Holly Graham as its inaugural head of US partnerships, while it picked up former C4 group partnership manager Jade Raad as head of brand partnerships for its newly-formed media division.

[text courtesy of Broadcast]

Sorry I Shot You

Sorry I Shot You Real Stories Original documentary stana grime rapper

‘Sorry I Shot You’, the second of my commissions for Real Stories, Little Dot Studios‘ documentary channel, went live last night. You can watch it here. It’s a fresh, moving look at Restorative Justice.

He shot a cop. Did his time. And now wants to make amends.

Dean Stanbury aka Stana was a bad-boy gangster and grime rapper growing up in East London. Then one fateful day in 2006 he shot and wounded a police officer. Dean was running away and fired over his shoulder. He did 8 years in jail, coming out a changed man. He now wants to track down the officer he shot and express his remorse and regret, check he is OK, and apologise to him face to face for what he did. Will Dean be able to find him after all these years? What will the policeman say, how will he react? In the process Dean re-visits his past to work out how he became the man capable of pulling the trigger that day.

Dean now has young children of his own. He has changed his lyrics, which were shockingly violent, to reflect his new values and discourage young men like he once was from glamorising guns, crime and life on the street.

What makes this film stand out is that it is a tale of Restorative Justice told from the inside (as opposed to TV people pitching up and looking in on this world). The director of ‘Sorry I Shot You’ (Nicole Stanbury) was involved in gang-related and organised crime which lead to her serving time in Holloway and other women’s prisons before finding her way back to the straight and narrow, including directing this her first film. Because she is a close relative of Dean Stanbury and has his full trust, the film is astonishingly intimate.

‘Sorry I Shot You’ is an uplifting documentary about redemption and second chances gratefully seized. Its protagonist is unusually honest and open, making this a very revealing and insightful film.

It is one of the first original productions from Real Stories (and the first ever commission for Underworld.TV) and has the feelgood vibe and overcoming of adversity which is part of what characterises this fast-growing documentary channel. ‘Sorry I Shot You’ [a 29 minute watch] went live on 2nd March 2018 on the Real Stories YouTube channel.

4 of the best international dramas

I’m a big fan of Walter Presents, the reservoir of sub-titled drama on Channel 4’s All4 VOD platform. It’s the brainchild of Walter Iuzzolino, a fellow Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 (we did The Sex Education Show/Sexperience together, for example), and it comes from a really genuine place, he loved Italian soaps growing up (watched with his granny) which is the root of his passion to seek out the very best of international TV drama.

Here are the 4 I’ve most enjoyed recently:

Maltese-Ep1-Rike-Shmid-as-ELISA-and-Francesco-Scianna-as-MAURO

Sexy bike, sexy sea, sexy photographer, hairy journo

1) Maltese

The only one in the Walter presents pot from his native Italy. Set in the 70s on Sicily (1976) and created by the team behind ‘Gomorrah’, writers Leonardo Fasoli and Maddalena Ravagli. The scenery was a delightful mind-trip, the language was a joy to listen to, and the story and acting were well up to par. Perfect for dull grey British fag-end of winter.

paris drama sarah-jane sauvegrain actress

Sexy scene-stealer

2) Paris

The show is stolen by Sarah-Jane Sauvegrain playing Alexia, a transgender woman at the heart of a wide cast of characters whose paths are interwoven across the 24 hours of the story (spread across six 45-minute episodes). These characters are from the political realm and the underworld, interconnected in many ways. Seemingly this portrayal of a transwoman was a landmark on French TV (of the kind represented by the first lesbian kiss on Channel 4’s Brookside). Sauvegrain plays the role with a fascinating mix of femininity with the occasional flash of male physicality – mesmerising and moving. The whole thing is a delight.

hotel adlon drama

Unsexy OCD

3) Hotel Adlon

A family saga centred on Berlin’s famous posh hotel beside the Brandenburg Gate. The three 95-minute episodes cover much of the 20th century, starting in 1904. More of an epic feel about it due to the long episodes, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable mix of aspirational luxury and fairly accurate history (culminating with the Nazis of course).

le_mystere-du-lac vanished by the lake drama

Sexy detective, sexy lake

4) Vanished by the Lake (Le Mystère du Lac)

Like Maltese, it’s as good as a holiday hanging out by the lake in the Var department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France. A teenage girl goes missing by the lake in a town where two other teenagers had gone missing before, 15 years earlier. A classic whodunit plus Provence landscapes – what’s not to like? How come there are so many sexy French detectivesses? Real-life or just a drama conceit? Who cares – fun to watch.

Little Dot launches SVoD app

From this week’s Broadcast – by Alex Farber – text courtesy of Broadcast

 

Little Dot launches SVoD app

Real Stories SVOD documentaries app iOS screengrab

Real Stories will offer factual shows

Little Dot Studios has launched an international SVoD service dedicated to factual programming.

The $3.99 per month Real Stories service is available via iOS and Android, with plans to launch via Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV and Roku devices shortly. It is available as an ad-supported service in the UK.

The service features a host of acquired films, including Rich Russians Living in London, Out Of Control Kids and Interview With A Serial Killer, alongside Little Dot’s debut slate of commissions.

Ordered by commissioning editor Adam Gee, these include Underworld TV’s Sorry I Shot You and Big Buddha Films/MedialabUK’s Absent From Our Own Wedding.

Real Stories’ YouTube channel has generated 1.1m subscribers and some 284m video views to date, and has gone on to be extended across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The app launch will be followed by an SVoD launch for world history channel Timeline, ahead of Little Dot’s portfolio of other channels including Spark, Nurture and Only Human.

The All3Media-backed business has tied with video streaming firm Simplestream to develop the debut app, revealed by co-founder Andy Taylor in October.

Little Dot’s senior partnerships manager Robbie Spargo said the aim was to learn about changing consumer habits.

“In particular, we’re fascinated by viewing shifting back to the living room through devices like Fire Stick, Roku, and Apple TV,” he added. “The Real Stories app will also give us the opportunity to experiment with different commercial models, from subscription to advertising to branded content partnerships with agencies and brands.”

Simplestream chief commercial officer Dan Finch said the service had been built using its fast-turnaround ‘VOD-in-a-Box’ platform.

“It allows Little Dot to deliver Real Stories on demand, to a targeted end-user’s location whilst serving up the appropriate business model for that territory in line with their programming rights,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to working together over the coming months on Real Stories and other exciting Little Dot brands across the globe.”

Top Documentaries on UK TV 2017

BBC Ambulance documentary series

My favourite documentary series of the year

Title Channel Share % Viewers ‘000s
         
1 Blue Planet II BBC 1 45.8 14,011
2 Diana, Our Mother: Her life + Legacy ITV 36.7 9,390
3 Diana, Seven Days BBC 1 32.9 6,425
4 Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum + Dad BBC 1 26.2 6,345
5 Spy In The Wild BBC 1 25.7 6,218
6 The Real Marigold Hotel BBC 1 23.3 5,999
7 Wild Alaska Live BBC 1 31.9 5,998
8 Attenborough and the Giant Elephant BBC 1 20.3 5,378
9 The Real Full Monty ITV 24.2 5,362
10 Fake Or Fortune? BBC 1 26.0 5,127
11 Snow Bears BBC 1 23.6 4,969
12 Paul O’Grady For the love of Dogs ITV 21.1 4,960
13 Diana: In Her Own Words CH4 20.6 4,923
14 The Truth About… Sleep BBC 1 20.3 4,704
15 Ambulance BBC 1 21.1 4,660
16 Police Tapes ITV 20.5 4,522
17 Easyjet: Inside The Cockpit ITV 20.2 4,488
18 The Real Marigold On Tour BBC 1 18.3 4,411
19 An Hour To Catch A Killer ITV 18.1 4,362
20 Inside London Fire Brigade ITV 18.7 4,317
21 Britain’s Busiest Airport – Heathrow ITV 18.5 4,309
22 The Met: Policing London BBC 1 19.5 4,224
23 Martin Clunes: Islands Of Australia ITV 19.4 4,222
24 The Cruise : Mediterranean ITV 17.3 4,216
25 Galapagos BBC 1 16.9 4,173
26 Elizabeth And Philip: Love & Duty BBC 1 14.6 4,149
27 Sir Bruce Forsyth: Mr Entertainment BBC 1 21.7 4,094
28 Reported Missing BBC 1 16.6 4,051
29 Prince Harry & Meghan ITV 16.8 4,034
30 Joanna Lumley’s India ITV 18.3 4,025
31 The Week The Landlords Moved In BBC 1 18.2 3,982
32 The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway BBC 2 17.4 3,908
33 Italy’s Invisible Cities BBC 1 14.6 3,859
34 Ross Kemp Behind Bars ITV 17.1 3,848
35 Sugar Free Farm ITV 16.3 3,840
36 Gordon Ramsay On Cocaine ITV 16.4 3,839
37 Diana: The Day Britain Cried ITV 14.6 3,817
38 Spy in the Wild: Meet the Spies BBC 1 17.6 3,784
39 Serial Killer with Piers Morgan ITV 15.9 3,683
40 The Ganges with Sue Perkins BBC 1 15.9 3,671
41 How To Stay Young BBC 1 15.9 3,648
42 Britain’s Best Walks with Julia Bradbury ITV 17.1 3,619
43 A Very Royal Wedding ITV 14.9 3,588
44 Gone To Pot: American Road Trip ITV 13.5 3,585
45 Killer Women with Piers Morgan ITV 15.7 3,553
46 Britain On The Fiddle BBC 1 14.1 3,459
47 The Truth About Stress BBC 1 14.7 3,451
48 The Harbour ITV 14.4 3,431
49 I Am Bolt BBC 1 15.8 3,409
50 The Sheriffs Are Coming BBC 1 14.1 3,400
51 Orkney: When The Boat Comes BBC 1 17.0 3,380
52 Winterwatch BBC 2 14.0 3,378
53 Harry & Meghan: Royal Engagement BBC 1 16.0 3,377
54 Russia With Simon Reeve BBC 2 14.0 3,287
55 Call The Midwife: The Casebook BBC 1 17.0 3,234
56 Devon & Cornwall Cops ITV 14.6 3,206
57 Planet Earth II: A World Of Wonder BBC 1 19.6 3,174

blue planet II natural history documentary series BBC

The Black Lesbian Handbook

This is a documentary project I’m really proud of. I recently commissioned the 2nd series this time set in Atlanta, Georgia but featuring some of the people who appeared in the London-based 1st series.

Channel 4 has really got behind it promotion-wise and it’s doing really well, finding a significant audience on All 4.

What’s particularly pleasing is the warm reception online like these:

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 16.27.28

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 16.28.32

The films were directed by Andy Mundy-Castle and produced by Rukhsana Mosam at Ten66 in Sussex.

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