Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society

Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
December 2020
                                               -January 2021

                             Netflix debut
Television September 2013             1
Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
Heartfelt confessions and last-minute reprieves. Big reveals and characters in crisis.
      Discover a world of drama through music and bring your story to life.

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Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
Journal of The Royal Television Society
                                                                                                                   December 2020/January 2021 l Volume 58/1

    From the CEO
                     Farewell, then, to 2020,                and a more recent remote encounter                                Do read our report of the recent
                     a year that we will all                 with a mystery entrepreneur’s butler.                          “Can TV save the planet?” event and
                     find hard to forget.                       I was delighted by the inspirational                        this issue’s Our Friend column, writ-
                     What better guide to                    and heartfelt message from the RTS’s                           ten by the new RTS Midlands Chair,
                     the past 12 months                      royal patron, HRH The Prince of Wales,                         Kuljinder Khaila. Both have important
                     than the always bril-                   to the TV sector’s production workers,                         messages for our challenging times.
                     liant Sir Peter Bazal-                  delivered at last month’s RTS Craft &                             Finally, a happy new year to you
     gette. His review of 2020 might make                    Design Awards.                                                 all. I hope you get some proper down-
     you laugh and cry, as he eloquently                        HRH’s belief that the TV workforce                          time after a difficult year. Take care of
     sums up the year of Covid-19 and                        will rebound stronger than ever from                           yourselves and your families.
     Black Lives Matter.                                     these challenging times is one we
       Baz also recalls a tense moment on                    should all take to heart. We carry a full
     the Central Line, where he helped                       list of all the winners and nominees.
     create the Changing Rooms format –                      Congratulations to every one of them.                          Theresa Wise

                                                                                                                                                     Cover: Bridgerton (Netflix)

 5           Kate Ward’s TV Diary
             There are no noisy Christmas parties to attend but, for
             Kate Ward, working from home is very far from quiet                        20                RTS Digital Convention: Culture shock
                                                                                                          YouTube’s Cécile Frot-Coutaz describes her journey from
                                                                                                          TV creative to Europe’s foremost player in digital video

 6           Comfort Classic: Morecambe and Wise
             Steve Clarke on why the duo’s Christmas shows remain
             unsurpassed                                                                22                The non-fiction Netflix?
                                                                                                          Discovery+ is a late entrant to the global streaming
                                                                                                          market, says Kate Bulkley. Can it still punch through?

 7           Ear Candy: My Life in TV
             Kate Holman hears celebrities ‘bin, binge or bring back’
             shows that were important to their TV journey                              24                PSB: Time for a radical reset
                                                                                                          As a Government review of public service broadcasting
                                                                                                          starts, Torin Douglas outlines the key issues

 8           Working Lives: Visual effects supervisor
             Russell Dodgson, the VFX supervisor behind His Dark
             Materials, talks to Matthew Bell                                           26                PSB: In defence of truth and impartiality
                                                                                                          A joint RTS and Media Society panel asks if the UK public
                                                                                                          service broadcasters are facing a fight for their lives

10           Lace and lust
             Shilpa Ganatra explores how Shonda Rhimes has
             reinvented period drama in Bridgerton for Netflix                          28                PSB: ‘Out with the old thinking’
                                                                                                          Media grandees assess how the UK’s public service
                                                                                                          broadcasters are responding to the streamers’ success

12           Goodbye to all that
             A year of severe challenges has given British TV
             its finest hour. Peter Bazalgette looks back on 2020                       30                Can TV save the planet?
                                                                                                          A stellar panel tells RTS Futures that television companies
                                                                                                          have a vital role in combating the climate crisis

15           Our Friend in the Midlands
             Kuljinder Khaila urges broadcasters to celebrate
             black voices from Birmingham and beyond                                    32                The political interview unwrapped
                                                                                                          An RTS Christmas special event reviews gems of the
                                                                                                          genre from the 1950s to the present day

16           Standing up for the marginalised
             Matthew Bell discovers there’s a mission behind the
             company that brings us RuPaul’s Drag Race UK                               34                RTS Craft & Design Awards 2020
                                                                                                          The ceremony, presented by Mim Shaikh and
                                                                                                          Anne Mensah, was streamed on 23 November

18           RTS Digital Convention: Start with the story
             Gary Davey explains Sky Studios’ approach to
             commissioning hits such as Chernobyl and I Hate Suzie                      42                A tribute to the television workforce
                                                                                                          HRH The Prince of Wales praises the commitment and
                                                                                                          ingenuity of TV production workers, reports Steve Clarke

Editor                     Production, design, advertising   Royal Television Society   Subscription rates                     Printing              Legal notice
Steve Clarke               Gordon Jamieson                   3 Dorset Rise              UK £115                                ISSN 0308-454X        © Royal Television Society 2020.      London EC4Y 8EN            Overseas (surface) £146.11             Printer: FE Burman    The views expressed in Television
News editor and writer     Sub-editor                        T: 020 7822 2810           Overseas (airmail) £172.22             20 Crimscott Street   are not necessarily those of the RTS.
Matthew Bell               Sarah Bancroft                    E:         Enquiries:      London SE1 5TP        Registered Charity 313 728                 W:

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                                                                    3
Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
TV diary
                                     There are no noisy Christmas parties
                                     to attend but, for Kate Ward, working
                                       from home is very far from quiet

                       his week heralds the      want to be aware of the whole story.       a socially distanced walk with Kelly
                       final week of lock-         Today, I saw some fantastic report-      Webb-Lamb from Channel 4 in our
                       down 2, a week that       ing on extreme fans and fan culture        local park.
                       would normally be         from the Vice world news team, a              I bring along my sleeping baby for
                       the start of the          satanic true-crime documentary             a blast of fresh air as we trade tips on
                       Christmas party           series from Vice Studios, and While        what we’re watching. The day zips by
                       season. But this year’s   the Rest of Us Die: Secrets of America’s   in a flurry of Zoom calls and I reflect
   end is eerily quiet. Quiet, assuming          Shadow Government from Vice TV.            on the fact that this is the longest
   you don’t count the dulcet tones of my        Drink about 10,000 cups of tea. My         period in my career that I haven’t
   WFH co-workers: a six-month-old, a            toddler asks me if I “made any mov-        travelled.
   three-year-old and my wonderful (but          ies today”. No pressure…
   very loud) husband. So far, so 2020.                                                     ■ Strategic planning for next year is
     The day begins with a catch-up with         ■ A call with our distribution team        wrapping, and I’m presenting to my
   our team in India. I first got to know        and final sign-off on the renewal          colleagues on the Vice leadership
   the Indian TV market over a decade            of our partnership with SBS in             team. I present a deck that could
   ago, when I helped launch MasterChef          Australia. We have been working            do with some design magic (one
   there. Today, it is a big priority for the    together successfully for two years,       of those “I made it myself” affairs)
   world’s streamers, as they compete for        but this allows us to expand and           but which contains some exciting
   the attention and subscriptions of an         deepen our relationship.                   thoughts on how we begin to drive
   audience of over 1 billion.                      It’s a big commitment. Today, we        deeper collab­oration across the
     I joined Vice Media Group in                spend an equal amount of time on           whole Vice Media Group and capi-
   November 2019 and was in India                the operations and workflows as we         talise on our IP.
   before the end of that year. We have          do on the content pipeline. Early on          We start every meeting talking
   an incredible team there, with several        in my career in TV sales, I was told:      about what Vice content has inspired
   big, ambitious shows in production.           it’s not just what you do, but how you     us this week. It is a great reminder of
                                                 do it. That’s so true.                     the breadth of what we do, from our
   ■ Today is entirely blocked off for                                                      advertising agency, Virtue, through to
   the pleasure of viewing. This is              ■ Over lunch, I read the inevitable        our digital brands.
   something I try to do monthly. I              article about the best high-street            I pick out i-D’s 40th anniversary
   catch up on all the latest episodes           Christmas sandwich and fleetingly          issue, which I’ve been reading. We are
   that Vice Studios is distributing or          consider Deliveroo-ing Pret to my          developing a show with its editorial
   producing globally. I am still a total        house. Come to my senses and               team. It has been an incredible expe-
   TV addict, so this is the part of my          decide against it. But only just.          rience, because they really are at the
   job where I have to pinch myself                                                         cutting edge of culture and taste form-
   that I’m paid for the pleasure.               ■ Lockdown is over and the first           ing – i-D’s motto is: “Fan, not critic”. I
     It’s very time consuming but it’s           Covid vaccine is approved for use.         think that’s a great rule to live by.
   important to watch multiple epi-              Feels like a huge moment and an
   sodes, not just episode 1 or a teaser.        opportunity to fleetingly dream            Kate Ward is President of Vice Studios at
   When I speak to one of our teams, I           about a return to normal. Meet for         Vice Media Group.

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                     5
Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
      Steve Clarke on why
      Morecambe and Wise
     remain unsurpassed as
       popular entertainers

          n those far-off days, when colour
          TV was still something of a nov-
          elty and viewers were restricted
          to a trio of TV channels, the two
          funniest people on the box were,
          without question, Eric Morecambe
    and Ernie Wise.
      Not for nothing was Morecambe voted
    the funniest person of the 20th century,
    ahead of such other greats as Tommy
    Cooper and John Cleese, in an internet
    poll taken in 1999.
      Morecambe’s double act with Wise
    began when the two were teenagers, in
    1941. Their quick-fire routines sought to
    “imitate the smart cross-talk and rapid
    one-liners of US double acts such as
    Abbott and Costello,” observed Simon

                                                      The Morecambe
    Blackwell, whose credits include Peep
    Show, The Thick of It and Veep.
      Thirty years later, the pair had become
    the pre-eminent TV entertainers of the

                                                         and Wise
    era and, on Christmas Day, half the
    nation would gather round the TV set
    to laugh out loud at their TV special.
      By this time, Eric and Ernie had

                                                      Christmas Show
    developed something that was unique
    – albeit much imitated by other, lesser
    double acts – by reinventing the style
    of comedy that had inspired them.
      They had honed their act in the
    decidedly unglamorous and unforgiv-
    ing world of British post-war variety
    theatre. When TV emerged in the 1950s,
    this style of entertainment was put on

    notice by the magic box.
      Unlike many of their peers, the duo
    had the good fortune to find a writer         and Wise’s celebrated Christmas shows,   man to Eric’s tomfoolery and fast talk-
    who could bring out the best of them in       including the 1977 edition, watched by   ing, but their shtick transcended the
    the very different setting of the TV stu-     almost 28 million viewers, a record-­    normal parameters of comedy duos.
    dio – Eddie Braben, a workaholic per-         breaking audience.                         There was sexual innuendo and
    fectionist who understood the deadly            These Christmas spectaculars were      debunking aplenty as some of the big-
    serious business of scripting comedy.         a mix of sketches, musical routines,     gest stars of screen and stage queued
      The idea of pairing Eric and Ernie          quick visual gags and usually a play     up to join in the fun. But there was
    with Braben came from BBC enter-              apparently written by Wise and featur-   nothing to offend granny or that you
    tainment chief Bill Cotton, who put           ing a TV star.                           would feel uncomfortable watching
    them together after they joined the             Wise once described their style        with a six-year-old.
    corporation in 1968 from ITV.                 of comedy as “naughty schoolboy            Glenda Jackson, not someone appar-
      It was Braben who wrote Morecambe           humour”. Yes, Ernie was the straight     ently given to suffering fools, appeared

Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
in not one but two Morecambe and
                                                   Ear candy                                                        Alison Hammond
  Wise Christmas specials and happily
  agreed to be gently humiliated by
  the comedians.
     A regular on the show was the late
  Des O’Connor, at the time widely
  regarded as British TV’s “Mr Nice Guy”.
  The ubiquitous and always dapper Des
  appeared completely comfortable as
  the foil for Eric’s teasing.
     In the 1977 Christmas special, Elton
  John, one of the world’s biggest stars,
  gets lost in the labyrinth that is Tele­
  vision Centre. At one point he bumps
  into Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring
  – who calls him a “stupid boy” – and
  only gets to perform “after the show
  has finished”. His audience consists of
  two cleaning ladies – played, of course,
  by Eric and Ernie, like two dejected
  dames from the panto. Despite being ­
  a rock star used to playing to audiences

                             Des O’Connor
                                                          My Life in TV
                        with Eric and Ernie


  of tens of thousands, John is delighted                          efore Alison Ham-         hilarious interviews with Hollywood
  to be sent up by Morecambe and Wise.                             mond starts her new       stars such as Harrison Ford and Ryan
    In the show’s big production number,                           gig on This Morning in    Gosling, and her enthusiastic (though
  a pastiche of There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,                      January, the presenter,   unsuccessful) attempt to get Meghan
  Eric and Ernie’s supporting cast is stud-                        reporter and actor is     Markle’s attention on her first official
  ded with TV personalities from the era                           taking listeners on a     outing with Prince Harry. This later
  – Barry Norman, Michael Parkinson                                trip down memory          went viral.
  and Eddie Waring, to name three.              lane with some famous faces for ITV’s           Emily Atack shares memories of
    “Broad is usually the term for bawdy,       first branded podcast, My Life in TV. The    staying up late to watch female come-
  basic humour, which theirs certainly          weekly pod invites celebrity guests to       dians such as Kathy Burke and Victoria
  wasn’t,” Rowan Atkinson once said.            discuss their own lives on television,       Wood. There’s also her career-changing
  “But they had broad appeal… something         from favourite TV moments to their           stint in the jungle. While Olivia Attwood,
  which all the family, from the age of six     childhood on-screen inspirations.            another guest, talks about the reality TV
  to 60, could enjoy and identify with.”           The likes of Mo Gilligan, Emily Atack     shows that inspired Olivia Meets Her
    In our more divided age, it is hard to      and AJ Odudu choose the shows they           Match, and Joel Dommett discusses
  imagine TV comedy that can unite the          would “bin, binge or bring back” and         learning on the job and his disastrous
  nation during the stresses and strains        share their personal career journeys in      audition for The Inbetweeners.
  of a family Christmas. Morecambe and          television. Hammond’s own path to               Hammond’s infectiously positive
  Wise did that and so much more. n             success started with a much-loved            outlook on life and comforting TV
                                                stint in the Big Brother house, after        anecdotes deliver the perfect nostalgia-
  The Morecambe and Wise Christmas              which she established herself as a           fest to lift your spirits on a dreary Mon-
  Show 1975 is on BBC Two on Christmas          permanent fixture on daytime TV.             day morning. n
  Day. The entire series is available on DVD.      The ITV regular is known for              Kate Holman

  Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                          7
Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society

                                                                                                                       His Dark Materials

    Visual effects supervisor
                    ussell Dodgson won both          18 months to two years of my time –        for architectural developments in the
                    an RTS Craft & Design            it’s a big investment, so you have to      Middle East. I directed the lifestyle and
                    Award and a Craft Bafta          love your job and the project.             visual-effects parts, and supervised the
                    this year for the special                                                   effects in post-production.
                    effects in BBC One’s His         How did you get into VFX?                    I then landed a job at Framestore in
                    Dark Materials. By trade, he     I studied editing at university – my       London to build a department based
    is a VFX supervisor, but is also creative        cousin is a natural history and docu-      around the VFX software Nuke.
    director of television at the visual effects     mentary editor, and I was amazed at
    and animation studio Framestore.                 how he pieced together stories from        What was the first big project you
                                                     animal footage. I also loved movies as     worked on?
    What do you do as a VFX supervisor?              a kid. I then took a detour and became     At Framestore, I worked on commer-
    I’m responsible for all the visual effects       a breakdancer for five years – I’ve        cials for a long time. My first big
    in a show, which comes down to two               always been fascinated by physical         non-commercials job was as one of
    main things: helping the production              movement and also spent most of my         two compositors on the storybook
    get the best creative use of their money         youth doing martial arts.                  sequence, “The Tale of the Three
    on screen; and, during filming, ensuring            Then, I saw a DVD extra on the visual   Brothers”, for Harry Potter and the Deathly
    the correct material is acquired to allow        effects in Black Hawk Down. That seemed    Hallows. Commercials, because of the
    all the brilliant VFX artists to do their job.   more my thing than editing, because of     range of work they offer, are such a
                                                     its connection to movement and ani-        great training ground – you have to
    When are you brought on board a                  mation. So, I went to Bournemouth          make the effects look as good as they
    production?                                      University and took a master’s in VFX.     can, often without the resources you
    Increasingly, we start right at the begin-                                                  ideally need.
    ning with the script, and work through           What were the first effects you               Eventually, I found myself wanting
    production and post-production.                  produced?                                  to move towards longer narratives and,
                                                     I took another detour, and started a       at the time, TV drama was really com-
    That sounds like a long job?                     company with a friend who is a director    ing of age. I became creative director
    One series of His Dark Materials takes           of photography (DoP) to shoot movies       of Framestore’s new TV division and

Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
my first show was Mars, Ron Howard’s          Brothers” for Harry Potter and the Deathly   paper can fall apart when it’s used in
docu-drama for National Geographic.           Hallows, and the animation on His Dark       anger: when filming, not everyone has
I then worked on the “USS Callister”          Materials. The latter has film-level crea-   the desire to be bogged down by tech-
episode of Black Mirror.                      tures throughout, performing alongside       nology. It’s why we use puppets rather
                                              actors, delivering plot and emotion.         than more technical ways to represent
Which other people and departments              His Dark Materials is a grounded fan-      creatures on set – puppets offer some-
do you work with closely?                     tasy and the visual effects have to serve    thing for the actors to perform with.
VFX talks to everyone. We start with          the story – your job is not to upstage
the script team, advising them where          the actors.                                  What advice would you give to some-
to be brave with effects and where to           This means getting the movement            one wanting to work in VFX?
hold back. On His Dark Materials, we put      and performance of the creatures to sit      You have to love creating art. Watch
a lot of resources into animating the         well with the actors’ performances,          films actively, not passively, and think

                                                                                                                                       Warner Bros Pictures
  ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ in
  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

polar bear, Iorek Byrnison, who appears
throughout the series – you wouldn’t            ‘YOUR JOB IS NOT                           about why a particular shot affects
                                                                                           your emotions. Buy a camera, take
throw in a high-value creature asset
for just one sequence.
                                                 TO UPSTAGE THE                            photos and work out what you like. If
                                                                                           you are coming from a science back-
  We also work with: the camera crew,                ACTORS’                               ground, make sure the televisual or
DoP and director; the riggers, who put                                                     filmic output of your work justifies
up the green screens, and the gaffers,                                                     your science knowledge.
who light them; costume; the stunt            rather than feeling like a stuck-on
teams; the production design and art          visual effect. That’s the kind of work       Art or science?
departments; and the actors – they            I’m proud of, not making big things          VFX is such a broad area, so you can be
have to know how to interact with the         explode.                                     entirely artistic and not worry about
digital creatures.                                                                         the science. You can also be entirely
                                              But when there’s a need for explosions       science-driven and write VFX software.
What do you bring to work with you?           – do you prefer real or digital?               I come more from an arts back-
The script and boxing gloves – at Wolf        A real explosion, always, unless it’s        ground, other colleagues at Framestore
Studios in Cardiff, where we shoot His        unrealistic or unsafe.                       are pure physicists. Personally, I love
Dark Materials, there’s a gym next door.                                                   storytelling and VFX offers me a way
                                              What are the best and worst parts of         of telling stories.
What makes a good visual effects              the job?
supervisor?                                   The best is being around people who          What would you love to work on?
Soft skills – you have to know how to         are brilliant at what they do; the worst     Before His Dark Materials, I would have
work with people, how to read a room,         is that it takes me away from my family.     said that, because I loved the books.
and when to hold back and when to                                                          Now, it’s enough for me to work with
jump in.                                      Are there any tricks of the trade you        talented people. n
                                              can share with us?
Which work are you most proud of?             Technical solutions aren’t necessarily       Visual effects supervisor Russell Dodgson
Artistically, “The Tale of the Three          best – what sounds bulletproof on            was interviewed by Matthew Bell.

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                                          9
Shondaland's Netflix debut - December 2020 -January 2021 - Royal Television Society
Lace and lust


                        s television’s great dis-                                               genre, but the show delves deeper to
                        ruptor, if Netflix is to         Shilpa Ganatra                         uncover relatable stories: the frustra-
                        take on a Regency
                        period drama, expect it
                                                      explores how Netflix                      tion of illicit love, family tensions and
                                                                                                the constraint of circumstance are all
                        to try and reinvent the      has reinvented period                      unpicked.
                        form. Enter Bridgerton,
       the streaming service’s Christmas
                                                    drama in Bridgerton, the                       That’s a forte of production company
                                                                                                Shondaland, set up by Shonda Rhimes
       big-hitter and a fresh take on the dec-       first fruit of its tie-up                  (the mastermind behind Grey’s Anatomy,
       ades-old style.                                                                          Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder).
         For all the show’s traditional draws,       with Shonda Rhimes                         Bridgerton is the first production to
       such as the opulence of the debutante                                                    emerge from Shondaland’s reported
       season, high-society scandal and               Bridgerton is inspired by Julia Quinn’s   $150m (£112m) deal with ­Netflix.
       growls of “I demand satisfaction”, a         best-selling novels, which follow the          “With Bridgerton, you get a daring
       modern-­day sensibility has been             courtship fortunes of eight well-to-do      take on love and relationships in
       smartly woven throughout.                    siblings. This series focuses on Daphne     19th-century London, but you also get
         “I love a good period piece, but           Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), who is         everything that comes along with being
       they’re often considered a little con-       singled out as Queen Charlotte’s (Golda     a Shondaland show,” says Van Dusen.
       servative. So, from the beginning, I         Rosheuvel) pick of the debutantes.          “These are smart, funny, tortured char-
       wanted to make the period show I’ve            When that doesn’t have the intended       acters figuring out who they are.”
       always wanted to see,” says the series       effect on her desirability, Daphne forms       Much about the show stays true to
       showrunner Chris Van Dusen. “The             a pact with a steadfast bachelor, the       Regency history. An etiquette advisor
       themes we’re exploring are set in the        Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), in       was on set to get the details right, and
       19th century, but the stories and the        the hope it will attract other suitors,     location shooting included Bath, Lon-
       characters are universal, which is how       including Prince Friederich (Freddie        don, Hatfield House and Wilton House.
       we get to explore some modern, relat-        Stroma). But things don’t go to plan.          But the tone and pace are atypical.
       able issues on the show.”                      The set-up might sound true to its        There are tongue-in-cheek one-liners,

and the series shows off a reimagined
wardrobe (every piece was made
­specifically for the show, with Ellen
 Mirojnick leading the costume depart­
 ment). The soundtrack includes classi-
 cal versions of hit songs from Ariana
 Grande and Shawn Mendes, among
 others, because, “when Daphne Bridg-
 erton walks into a big ballroom and
 hears a song and is filled with excite-
 ment and spirit, I wanted whoever’s
 watching to feel the very same thing”.
    A key update to the genre is the
 diversity of the cast, most visually in
 its ethnic make-up. Following on from
 films such as The Personal History of
 David Copperfield, Bridgerton has pro-
 gressed from the idea that period
 pieces require an all-white cast.
    “We knew we wanted to make the

 show reflect the world that we live in
 today,” says Van Dusen. “We wanted
 modern audiences to see themselves
 reflected on screen, no matter who           it. We worked with Lizzy Talbot, an            glamorous ballrooms imaginable until
 they are.                                    incredible intimacy coordinator, and           the early-morning hours.
    “Having worked in Shondaland ever         her insights were invaluable. I’m so              “Also, the power of the written word
 since Grey’s Anatomy, it’s what we do        glad that this role is becoming more           is something we explore through Lady
 there. But I don’t refer to the casting as   and more commonplace on sets.”                 Whistledown (the anonymous news-
 colour-blind – that would imply that             Certainly, the female viewpoint that       letter writer, narrated by Julie
 colour and race aren’t considered.           runs throughout the series is bang up          Andrews). She’s our one-woman
 They’re a part of the conversation, just     to date. Up until now, period pieces           Regency tabloid, and we see how she
 like class and gender.                       showed feminism through the creation           shifts public opinion and affects peo-
    “This is a reimagined world. It’s not     of feisty ladies and strong matriarchs.        ple with her stories, just like tabloids
 a history lesson, and there weren’t any          But, more realistically, Bridgerton por-   and social media do today.”
 actual real Bridgertons in 1813. But I       trays the stifled ambition of the women           Reinventing the genre didn’t come
 became aware of a Queen Charlotte            of that era: the ones who are shunned          without its challenges, as each tradi-
 being England’s first queen of mixed         for unfair reasons (such as the Feather-       tional element of TV period pieces was
 race, and many historians firmly             ingtons’ pregnant cousin, Marina               singled out, interrogated and reinter-
 believe there’s evidence for that today.     Thompson), the ones who plainly see            preted, if needed, with precision and
    “It made me wonder, what could            the injustice of their inequality (the         subtlety.
 that play out like? What could have          academic Eloise Bridgerton), and, most            It took three years from the moment
 happened? Could she have elevated            painfully, the ones who try to make the        Shonda Rhimes first turned Van Dusen
 other people of colour in society and        best of the limited parameters that            on to Quinn’s stories, to Bridgerton’s
 given them titles and lands? The idea        society offers them, like Daphne Brid-         release, and “there was nothing easy
 of the Duke of Hastings was born out         gerton and even her rival, Cressida            about the show”, he says. But airing it
 of that.”                                    Cowper.                                        on Christmas Day makes a bold state-
    Another update is an unapologetic             “What we’re really exploring here is       ment about how much of a disruptor
 attitude to sex. While Downton Abbey         the female plight, and we’re seeing            Netflix is, since the day is normally
 was largely a family-friendly watch,         how women of all ages have been                reserved for failsafe linear shows such
 and the 1995 adaptation of Pride and         strategising ways to assert themselves         as EastEnders, Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly
 Prejudice proved steamy as Colin Firth       and find their agency for generations,”        and, indeed, The Queen’s Christmas
 exits a lake in fine style, neither can      says Van Dusen. “Women were literally          Broadcast.
 prepare us for Daphne’s sexual awak-         tied into these corsets, but they still           “I think it was a very smart move
 ening midway through Bridgerton.             wanted to bust out of them and find            on Netflix’s part,” says Van Dusen.
    “With the intimate scenes, we             their agency, just as they do today.              The Shondaland partnership will
 approached them from the female gaze             “Underneath all the glamour, there is      continue to bear fruit in 2021 with
 first and foremost,” says the showrun-       a modern commentary about how, in              Inventing Anna, a 10-part series about
 ner. “Then, it was much like an action       the past 200 years, everything has             the Russian con artist who duped
 sequence: the scenes were heavily            changed, but nothing has changed.              high-flyers in New York.
 choreographed, heavily rehearsed,                “I think that goes for both women             And while it’s yet to be confirmed,
 and involved lots of conversations.          and men. We’re exploring things such           it’s a sure bet that another of the Bridg-
    “It was about making sure actors felt     as family, relationships and dating.           erton books will turn into a series 2 in
 comfortable and leaving it up to them        Instead of Tinder and dating apps, they        due course. Someone please pass the
 with however far they wanted to take         just swipe left and right in the most          smelling salts. n

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                                   11
Goodbye to all that

                                                                                                                      March: ‘Go home. Stay home’

                JANUARY                                                                                  MARCH
                “Great fears of the Sicknesse here in
                the City, it being said that two or three
                                                                  Covid-19 and the                       Things begin to move fast. At ITV,
                                                                                                         Caro­lyn McCall recommends home
                houses are already shut up. God pre-          murder of George Floyd                     working on 12 March and makes it
                serve us all.” The very first mention of                                                 mandatory on 17 March. We’re being
                the plague in The Diary of Samuel Pepys,      presented the TV sector                    told advertising may fall by 40% in
                on 30 April 1665. Fast forward 355 years
                and there’s this on 11 January on the
                                                               with severe challenges                    April (and it does). The worst ever
                                                                                                         monthly fall up to then had been 17%,
                ITV News site: “Health authorities in the     but led to its finest hour.                at one point in 2009. This is a national
                central Chinese city of Wuhan are                                                        shock.
                reporting the first death from a new           Peter Bazalgette looks                       But as we work through these
                type of coronavirus.”
                   Pepys had a sense of foreboding,
                                                                    back on 2020                         doomsday scenarios, we have a much
                                                                                                         greater concern, along with our PSB
                but we’re gloriously blithe about this.                                                  colleagues. Can we keep our news and
                Another Sars or Ebola, something that           Sajid Javid remains as Chancellor,       daytime shows on air? Can we ration
                happens to folk elsewhere. It’ll be           which is a plus since he understands       our soap transmissions to maintain
                another six weeks before the truth            media. But only for five minutes, as       them in the schedule for as long as
                begins to dawn, even though the virus         he refuses to let Dominic Cummings         possible? (Yes and yes.)
                is already silently among us.                 choose his Spad.                              Then, on 23 March, Britain’s total
                   The greatest disruption to our lives         At DCMS, Oliver Dowden is made           lockdown is announced. We have to
                since the Second World War will               Secretary of State. Does he watch          promote essential public messages.
                severely challenge the broadcast sec-         Emmerdale, Fleabag, Gogglebox, The York-   We must continue to scrutinise an, at
                tor. But also give rise to our finest hour.   shire Vet and Chernobyl? We have no        times, faltering government perfor-
                                                              idea, but many politicians only watch      mance. And perhaps most important
                FEBRUARY                                      the news… when they’re on it.              of all, we need to give the nation the
                The Government conducts its post-­              The interesting appointment is           shot in the arm it is expecting from our
                election reshuffle. The Kremlinologists       Whitto, back as media minister. A man      drama and entertainment. We manage
                seek clues as to future policy direction.     who really does watch TV and under-        all of this. And Clap for Carers starts on
                Nicky Morgan retires from DCMS (a             stands PSB.                                26 March, becoming a recurring live
                loss) and, alarmingly, gives the reason         They say he has a pipe dream of          event for TV.
                that female politicians are trolled so        privatising Channel 4 and taking away         Memo to Westminster: programmes
                viciously online that they fear for           the BBC’s exclusive use of the licence     made by us, about us and for us. It’s
                their families.                               fee. What can it all mean?                 called public service broadcasting

and it turns out that it’s a distinctly
21st-century concept.

Everyone’s at home and the gentle
erosion of live viewing speeds up in
a matter of days. Good for Netflix but
also for iPlayer, ITV Hub and All 4. For
instance, it’s in April that the BBC’s
Normal People is streamed 22 million
times in a week. But “live” also shows
some resilience: ITV gets almost 5 mil-
lion viewers for a Virtual Grand National.
   And we learn Zoom one-upmanship.
A cacophony of cats, dogs, Hoovers
and kids are paraded. Some folk, it is
said, are suddenly buying books by the
yard to furnish their intellectual cre-
dentials. But my prize for effortless
insouciance goes to the entrepreneur
I’m on a video call with, whose butler
silently prepares his lunch in the back-
ground, entirely unacknowledged.
We’re all front-of-camera now.

Britain Get Talking is one of ITV’s
                                                                                                   May: Black Lives Matter in the UK

social-action campaigns, aimed at
promoting mental health. We’ve long
been planning a drive to coincide with        bottom of our organisations? We know           a day per person. Yet this could take
Mental Health Awareness Week.                 the answer is no. ITV shortly responds         more than £250m out of TV advertis-
  But our special advertisements,             by being the first FTSE 100 company to         ing. This is money that ITV and others
spearheaded by Ant and Dec, encour-           put someone on the management                  invest in news and entertain­ment.
aging us all to reach out to people           board specifically charged with access           We have campaigns for healthy eat-
outside our inner circles, take on a          and diversity policy. And all broadcast-       ing, we promote the message in our
whole new significance. Britain is            ers will celebrate Black History Month         daytime shows and soaps. We believe
locked down. Will you overcome your           imaginatively later in the year. But we        we’re part of the answer, not part of
natural reserve and talk to that neigh-       have a long way to go.                         the problem. Sigh.
bour who lives on their own? Has that
pensioner, too frightened to go to the        JULY                                           AUGUST
shops, got anyone delivering food for         The death toll from Covid rises, month         This is the month that the BBC bites
them? Britain does indeed get talking.        by month. It becomes clear that people         the bullet and ends free TV licences for
  And then, on 25 May, in a far away          who are obese are particularly vulner-         the over-75s. There’s a chorus of disap-
American town, a man is killed by the         able. The Prime Minister’s prior admis-        proval from politicians, though they
police. The death of George Floyd in          sion to St Thomas’s underlines this.           know full well that George Osborne,
Minneapolis turns out to be the second        He’s emerged admirably determined              then Chancellor, specifically gave the
unheralded event of the year that             to increase Government efforts to              BBC the latitude to decide this. It
affects us all…                               combat obesity.                                becomes open season on the BBC’s
                                                Unfortunately, this soon descends to         funding generally, a full seven years
JUNE                                          gesture politics and the Government            before the current Charter expires.
Black Lives Matter protests take off in       announces its intention to ban so-­called          It may be that the licence-fee system
the UK. There are flashpoints, such as        HFSS ads (for food and drink high in fat,      is out of place in the streaming digi-
the pulling down of Edward Colston’s          salt or sugar) from TV before 9:00pm.          sphere. Other possibilities are a house-
statue in Bristol. But something more           Multiple studies, some carried out by        hold media levy or monies directly
profound occurs in all workplaces.            Ofcom, have demonstrated that banning          from taxation.
People of colour are empowered to             ads won’t move the dial (lengthy and               But, whatever we finally settle on,
say how they feel about years of casual       determined intervention with deprived          let’s ensure that the BBC receives
discrimination. And perhaps we listen         families is the answer, but has always         hypothecated funding: voluntary
properly for the first time.                  been on the too-difficult shelf).              ­subscription will diminish it. Surely,
  This is more acute for broadcasters.          The Government’s own “evidence”,              it would be a positive thing for our
We say our programmes reflect the             such as it is, suggests that a ban will only    society to commit to such a confident
nation. But do we really, from top to         deliver a reduction of about 1.7 calories       investment in critical social content? �

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                      13
                                                                                                 Thursday evenings: clapping for carers

     SEPTEMBER                                        If we want to find more new for-          to hitherto obscure cable channels
     � I learn about an augmented-reality          mats we need shrewd briefs from              Newsmax and One America News
     app for children being developed by           commissioners, willing creative              Network. There, Trump has always
     the Natural History Museum and the            teams and scary deadlines. In 1995,          “won” the election. And they also
     Science Museum, which they plan to            Michael Jackson (the controller of           desert Twitter and Facebook where,
     launch the following month. The kids          BBC Two) challenged me to do for             albeit belatedly and ineffectively, they
     can care for dinosaurs, and even cre-         interiors what we’d done for food            are qualifying Trump’s baseless asser-
     ate their own robots to do the work.          with Ready Steady Cook.                      tions of electoral fraud. They find a
     The museums are continuing to serve              I and Ann Booth-Clibborn then got         home at Parler and Rumble, sites
     their audiences, even as they’re forced       on the Tube with an idea to pitch at the     with no such scruples.
     to remain closed.                             BBC. I asked: “Does this format suck?”          Welcome to confirmation bias in
        The project has funding from UK            She said, “Er, actually, yes.” I said: “We   the internet age. Trusted and reliable
     Research and Innovation (on whose             have eight stops to think of something       public service news, anyone? The
     board I sit), overseen by Andrew Chitty,      else.” At Holland Park, out of sheer         next front is anti-vaxxers…
     formerly of Granada and the BBC. And          panic, I asked her, “What would it
     the app is produced by Factory 42, run        be like if we got neighbours to swap         DECEMBER
     by John Cassy, late of Sky. Thus two          houses to do up a room next door?”           And so we come to the end of this
     expats from tellyland are helping the            I wonder whether I’ve imagined            plague year. Charmingly, the House
     screen industries define their future.        all this. But Ann and I are still in         of Commons holds an adjournment
     The funding comes from the Creative           touch and she tells me those febrile         debate to mark the 60th anniversary
     Industries Sector Deal. It’s good to be       exchanges on the Central Line really         of Coronation Street. So they do watch
     reminded that the reimagining of our          did happen.                                  the soaps!
     wider sector is full of rich possibilities.                                                   Production of drama and other
                                                   NOVEMBER                                     location-based shows had completely
     OCTOBER                                       I love a general election (I’ll even         ceased for many months. But 85% are
     Channel 4 announces that it is reviv-         watch reruns of the 1955 election            now back shooting. Advertisers return,
     ing Changing Rooms. This is not my            in black and white on iPlayer… all           too – the soothsayers in the City and
     first “drowning-man-flashback” expe-          12 hours of it). So I’m glued to Ameri-      media gulch are currently predicting a
     rience, as formats that I had a hand in       can media on 3 November. It’s dis-           decline of around 10% to 12% for the
     long ago, in the pre-Covid 1990s, get         tressing how the crooked enterprise          year. Unprecedented, but a recovery
     pulled out of cold storage. Ready Steady      that is the Trump presidency, ably           from that 40% figure in the spring.
     Cook and Food & Drink have already            amplified by Fox News, has lured CNN            A happy Christmas bubble to you all.
     risen from the grave.                         and The New York Times into being just       And let’s hope for a post-vaccination
        It’s more and more difficult to launch     as polemical against Donald Trump.           economy in 2021. n
     new formats (hats off to The Repair              Then, when Fox tries to go straight
     Shop, a notable exception). So, recog-        by calling Arizona (correctly) for           Peter Bazalgette is Chair of ITV and a
     nised brands are much in demand.              Biden, Trump’s cult followers peel off       UKRI board member.


                                                         Kuljinder Khaila
                         arring an unexpec­                                                                           The BBC wants a better representa­
                         ted – but probably            urges broadcasters                                          tion of diversity in its productions.
                         unsurprising – large
                         asteroid impact, the
                                                           to celebrate                                            The Midlands can offer meaningful
                                                                                                                   solutions. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe
                         most tumultuous                black voices from                                          was partly filmed in Wolverhampton.
                         year in living mem­                                                                       Tiger Aspect’s Man Like Mobeen was
                         ory is finally limping
                                                        Birmingham and                                             shot in Birmingham.
    to its end. At this time of year, we                      beyond                                                  Both benefited from initiatives to
    would normally compile a review or                                                                             find diverse crews, but much more
    two but who wants to relive 2020?                                                                              work in this area is necessary. Forging
       It seems the biblical equestrian                                                                            partnerships between the production
    quartet has been riding roughshod                                                                              sector and broadcasters around oppor­
    for months; countless losses and the                                                                           tunities for greater diversity will begin
    unending upheaval of the pandemic;                                                                             in early 2021.
    acts of violent racism; raging wild­                                                                              Throughout the past year, the Mid­
    fires, floods and even a locust plague                                                                         lands screen sector has been stub­
    in East Africa. As a result, we’ve all                                                                         bornly growing. RTS Midlands will
    changed this past year.                                                                                        renew its support for fledgling, but
       In our impatience to get back to                                                                            ambitious, new independent produc­
    the world we left, we shouldn’t forget                                                                         tion companies such as Leicester­
    those events that forced us to rethink,                                                                        shire-based Matriarch Productions,
                                                                                                Kuljinder Khaila

    re-evaluate and, at times, reset.                                                                              founded by Hannah Walters and Ste­
       I was fortunate enough to be able                                                                           phen Graham; or Adil Ray’s new pro­
    to make time during lockdowns to                                                                               duction outfit in Birmingham that
    explore how we work, the missed                                                                                will be working on new perspectives
    opportunities and note which impor­                                                                            in unexpected genres.
    tant issues have been overlooked.                 The team has already begun work                                 Like many independents in the
       As the incoming Chair of RTS Mid­           on a new-entrants-to-the-screen                                 region, they want to tell stories that
    lands, I have a renewed sense of pur­          initiative. The aim is to help young                            are often overlooked and made by
    pose. My inbox already has pressing            people navigate a much-changed                                  talent who need a spotlight to shine.
    questions to answer:                           landscape.                                                      Their ambitions define the Midlands.
    n How do we help the generation                   We are fortunate to have a sister                               And I haven’t even mentioned two
    of future storytellers who have seen           school to Birmingham Ormiston                                   of the most impactful recent develop­
    their opportunities washed away                Academy, the BOA Stage & Screen,                                ments in the Midlands: Create Central,
    while singing happy birthday twice?            opening in 2021. It will be the latest                          the collective voice of the screen sec­
    n How do we ensure black voices                of several measures addressing the                              tor, which aims to drive investment
    from the region are not only heard             region’s screen-skills gap.                                     in the region, and the exciting, Steven
    but highlighted and celebrated?                   Building bridges with tomorrow’s                             Knight-led studio development that
    n Why are working-class stories in             talent via regional colleges, universi­                         could prove to be a game changer.
    the Midlands passed by as we march             ties and – just as importantly – youth                             As we bid a profanity-laden farewell
    towards the old red wall in the North?         groups, has become an RTS priority.                             to the past year, we begin to look
    n How can we become more robust,                  It is pointless to collectively embrace                      forward with an invigorating level
    so that our good intentions are not            rhetoric concerning race and class                              of optimism. Bring on 2021. n
    lost in talk?                                  without a plan to make a real differ­
       The RTS Midlands Committee is               ence. Working with the BBC’s director                           Kuljinder Khaila is executive producer
    an erudite and vibrant bunch, which            of creative diversity, June Sarpong, is                         of the BBC Young Reporter journalism
    reflects a wide range of views from a          the first step towards addressing the                           and media project and incoming Chair
    very diverse region.                           concerns raised in the region.                                  of RTS Midlands.

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                                           15
Standing up for
               the marginalised
     Matthew Bell discovers
     there’s a mission behind
        the company that
        brings us RuPaul’s
          Drag Race UK

                      elevision glitter should
                      lift many spirits brought
                      low by this year’s Christ­
                      mas comedown as
                      RuPaul’s Drag Race UK
                      returns for a second
     series in January. Good news for fans of
     the raucous and rude BBC Three show
     – and for the people that make it.
        Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey
     met at NYU film school in the mid-
     1980s, performed as a gloriously camp
     electro-pop duo, The Fantastic Pop
     Tarts, and went on to found World of
     Wonder Productions in 1991.
        Many of its early productions, such
     as Channel 4’s fondly remembered The
     Adam and Joe Show, were made from its
     offices in Brixton, south London. But
     World of Wonder began to focus on the
     American market and its success has
     been built on the back of the phenom­
     enal – and multiple Emmy Award-­
     winning – RuPaul’s Drag Race in the US.
        Are TV and drag the perfect match?
     Bailey thinks so. At an RTS event in
     London late last year, he persuasively
     argued that drag queens and the telly
     go together “like peanut butter and
        A year later, from his Los Angeles
     base, he says: “The thing about the
     small screen is that you want to make
     a big impact. That is definitional to drag;
     it is about walking into a crowded room
     and turning heads. It is about compel­
     ling people to watch you.”
        Judged by the longevity of RuPaul’s
     Drag Race, which completed its 12th
     series in the US earlier this year and is
     growing overseas, Bailey is clearly on
     to something. The reality competition

     show has brought glam and glitter to

Thailand, Canada and the Netherlands,        cruel indifference to the Aids epidemic,”      “We try to make what we want to
and will shortly add Spain.                  says Barbato. “Now that we [have            watch in the hope that enough people
   RuPaul’s Drag Race began life on a US     been] in the same situation again with      will want to watch it. And, because of
gay pay-channel, before graduating to        Trump and Covid, Wojnarowicz’s voice        that, we are freed of the nightmarish
entertainment channel VH1 – and then         and work deserves amplification.”           pursuit of trying to be all things to
to other mainstream channels world­             Despite the success of its SVoD plat­    all people.”
wide. “While you can never predict           form, World of Wonder remains com­             WOW Presents Plus, he continues,
what will connect with an audience,          mitted to linear-TV. “We love that we       “is our way of creating an extended
we always hoped it would, because we         can work with broadcasters alongside        family of like-minded souls. It’s also
firmly believe that the appeal of drag is    our own offering – with many viewers        been a place where we can experiment
universal – young and old, gay and           finding their way to WOW Presents Plus      and incubate things.”
straight,” says Barbato.                     through discovering our shows on their         As befits a company whose origins
   “We have been thrilled to see                                                                lie in managing Bailey and Barba­
the [show] grow both in the US                                                                  to’s 1980s band, World of Won­
and internationally, and shine a                                                                der’s portfolio extends beyond TV.
light on the culture of drag that                                                               Earlier this year, it launched a
exists in every country.”                                                                       theatrical extravaganza, RuPaul’s
   But there is much more to World                                                              Drag Race Live! Las Vegas, at the
of Wonder than RuPaul’s Drag Race.                                                              city’s Flamingo hotel and casino;
The SVoD service WOW Presents                                                                   this month, it releases the first
Plus, which launched in November                                                                album from The Frock Destroyers,
2017, offers Drag Race and its spin-                                                            who are Divina de Campo, Blu
off shows, UNHhhh, Fashion Photo                                                                Hydrangea and Baga Chipz from

                                                                                          Movi/World of Wonder
RuView, Werq the World and God                                                                  the first series
Shave the Queens. The latter, a doc­                                                            of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. “We like
umentary series about the tour                                                                  to experiment,” says Barbato.
that followed the first outing of                                                               “There’s always the chance of
                                          Randy Barbato (left)
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, began its first                                                          falling flat on our faces, but it
                                          and Fenton Bailey
run on BBC Three last month.                                                                    does make life interesting.”
   WOW Presents Plus, which                                                                        Next up, after a coronavirus-in­
claims to be the world’s leading             regular, go-to broadcasters in their        duced delay, is the return of RuPaul’s
LGBTQ+ streaming platform, “is going         respective countries, and then expand­      Drag Race UK. With the same team of
gangbusters”, says Bailey. “We have          ing their World of Wonder journey           regular judges, Michelle Visage, Alan
doubled our subscribers year on year.        through the platform,” says Bailey.         Carr and Graham Norton – and more
[It] enables us to have a creative space,       If they were prepared to sell, World     queens and episodes – World of Won­
as well as housing all our shows in          of Wonder would presumably make             der is hoping to repeat the runaway
one place.”                                  Bailey and Barbato a heap of dollars,       critical and ratings success of the first
   Beyond its drag output, World of          but the duo are not tempted to cash in.     series. The BBC is clearly optimistic,
Wonder makes documentaries about             “What we love most of all is being able     having already ordered a third series.
serious subjects. Out of Iraq tells how      to do exactly what we want to do. We           Shooting on the second series of
a US Marines translator and an Iraqi         like being able to roll the dice and take   RuPaul’s Drag Race UK was suspended
soldier found love during war, while         risks. It’s really what keeps things        during the spring lockdown, “With
Stonewall Outloud recounts the story         interesting, so I don’t think we would      closed borders, international quaran­
of the 1969 riots when patrons of a          sell,” says Bailey.                         tines and national lockdowns, it was
Manhattan gay bar, the Stonewall                Where do they see World of Wonder        an interesting challenge, spanning the
Inn, fought back against the New             in 10 years’ time? Peering into his         better part of eight months,” recalls
York police.                                 crystal ball, Barbato says: “One of Ru’s    Bailey. “I think this period has been
   Barbato rejects my suggestion that        favourite words is ‘stick-with-it-ness’,    difficult for everyone and we hope
its documentary output is somehow            and that ability to keep going and          season 2 will make everyone feel
more worthy than its drag shows:             refuse to go away is what gets us out       ‘much betta’ as Baga would say.”
“Please don’t misunderstand: drag is         of bed in the morning. So, in 2030, we         Summing up the secret of the show’s
serious. Fun, yes, but serious fun. It       hope people will be watching Drag Race      success, Bailey adds: “From Shakespeare
attacks prejudice and raises up the          Uranus, assuming that humanity hasn’t       to the pantomime, drag has always had
marginalised. And that’s very much           succeeded in wiping itself out – which      a strong tradition in the UK. But, of
our mission in life.”                        is, admittedly, a big assumption.”          course, it’s not just in the UK. We have
   World of Wonder’s most recent doc­           More seriously, Barbato believes that    found that, all over the world, there are
umentary, produced by Barbato and            World of Wonder’s independence gives        armies of queens ready to bewitch and
Bailey and directed by Chris McKim,          it an edge in a TV landscape increasingly   bedazzle audiences with their talents.
chronicles the life of New York artist       dominated by big producers. “While             “It’s about the courage, perseverance,
David Wojnarowicz. “Less well-known          algorithms are great for the ‘McDonald­     and conviction of the queens, and
than Warhol or Mapplethorpe, artists         sification’ of content, the more things     that appeals to everyone’s capacity for
whom we have also made documenta­            become the same, the more people            empathy and compassion. Well, almost
ries about, Wojnarowicz was an out­          crave something different – and that’s      everyone [except] the loser of the
spoken critic of the US government’s         why we’re here.                             recent US election.” n

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                  17

                   his is my perfect job.” Dur-
                   ing more than 40 years in
                   television, Gary Davey has
                   worked across the board
                   – from taking charge of all
                   content and creative ser-
     vices at Sky Germany, to being the
     CEO of Hong Kong-based Star TV.
        But it is only now, as CEO of Sky
     Studios, that he feels like he is in his
     dream role: as “the gamekeeper turned
     poacher – having been a broadcaster
     all my life and now being a supplier”.
        Davey was in conversation with
     journalist Kirsty Wark as part of the
     RTS Digital Convention 2020. Wark
     had provoked his admission by asking
     if his current role appealed to him
     because “you get to work with small
     companies, vision stuff, but you also
     get to be that small-time creator who
     looks at a script”.
        Davey agreed that his remit was
     ideal, but he also noted the unique and
     unforeseen situation: “I couldn’t have
     picked a more challenging year to do it
     in!” The Covid-19 lockdowns have seen
     many people turn to on-screen enter-
     tainment to pass their time stuck inside,
                                                                                                                        Gary Davey

     with a surge in both linear-TV and

                                                   It all starts
     streaming compared with last year.
        Davey admitted a few of the guilty
     pleasures he had discovered during
     lockdown, including some from com-
     petitors, such as Netflix’s The Queen’s
     Gambit. “And of course, the one show

                                                  with the story
     that everybody’s currently obsessed
     about, HBO’s The Undoing.”
        Reflecting on some of Sky’s newer
     programmes, including the comedy
     Brassic and drama Gangs of London,
     Davey acknowledged some hesitation
     following the success of the award-­
     winning series Chernobyl. It was, he said,
                                                     Gary Davey, CEO of Sky Studios, outlines his
     such a “tough act to follow. I mean, I        approach to commissioning standout shows such
     remember trying to pitch the idea to
     my bosses. It was like – you want to           as Chernobyl, Gangs of London and I Hate Suzie
     make a drama out of the Chernobyl
     nuclear disaster? Really? But, having        and Sky shows, because it’s all about      out that “Net­flix has signed Harry and
     read the script, I mean, Craig Mazin just    the customer experience, right? And        Meghan [Markle], and we have Amazon
     created a masterpiece with that script.”     so, Sky shows have to compete… and         and Phoebe [Waller-Bridge].”
        Wark wondered if he had shared her        the customer decides.                         Davey said that Sky Studios had not
     early concern about how viewers                 “It’s the most incredible, powerful,    done any deals with on-camera talent
     would find anything on the streaming         dangerous democracy that God ever          at all – out of choice, because he
     services that have taken the world by        created and it’s brutal. Our customers     believed that “the idea of a talent deal
     storm: “I remember when this was             will abandon shows quickly if they         is dangerous”.
     kicking off, and it was, ‘Oh, people will    don’t like them. So, it really keeps us       “What matters first is the story,”
     never be able to find their way between      on our toes, both in what we’re choos-     Davey insisted. “Then, finding the right
     Amazon, Netflix, Peacock and Sky.’”          ing to make and how we make it.”           people – the writers, producers, direc-
        Davey said he welcomed the com-              However, predicting the popularity of   tors, cinematographers and [only then]
     petition: “We present Netflix shows in       a show is far from easy. Big names can     on-camera talent to fit the story. It
     our user interface, alongside BBC, ITV       help attract audiences. Wark pointed       might be an old-­fashioned approach,

both been getting nervous about the
                                                                          I Hate Suzie          supply of sound stages for their grow-
                                                                                                ing needs – and, indeed, about the
                                                                                                availability of craft skills in general.
                                                                                                    “We think that there’s going to be a
                                                                                                significant deficit in all of the crafts, all
                                                                                                the way from painters, carpenters, elec-
                                                                                                tricians, grips… So, we will be investing
                                                                                                in full-time employment and… to make
                                                                                                sure that we’ve got a pipeline of young
                                                                                                people coming through in all of the
                                                                                                crafts – it’s really important.”
                                                                                                    Wark said that this had been a really
                                                                                                tough year for freelancers and Davey
                                                                                                agreed. When the coronavirus crisis
                                                                                                struck, Sky Studios suspended 29 pro-
                                                                                                ductions. “If you take that 29 and
                                                                                                ­multiply it by the hundreds of people
                                                                                                 who are typically attached to a series
                                                                                                 production, it’s an enormous number
                                                                                                 of people.”
                                                                                                    Some shooting recommenced in
                                                                                                 June. “We’re back in full flight,” said
                                                                                                 Davey. He expected the very detailed
                                                                                                 production planning that made that
                                                                                                 possible to remain a strong feature of
                                                                                                 the way that TV was made from now on.
                                                                                                    He accepted that “there may be some
                                                                                                 negative by-products of that, because,

                                                                                                 sometimes, the true genius of produc-
                                                                                                 tion comes out of thinking or seeing
but I think it’s the one that works best.”
   He continued: “We much prefer an            ‘THE IDEA OF A                                    something [on set] that you might not
                                                                                                 have done in a planning meeting.”
organic approach to development,
where we start with the story outline
                                               TALENT DEAL IS                                       He also expected technology to con-
                                                                                                 tinue transforming production, with
and spend an enormous amount of                DANGEROUS’                                        “studio walls of LED screens showing
time getting scripts right, working                                                              backgrounds generated by a games
closely with great writing teams.”                                                               engine. You will be able to have mobil-
   Davey enthused about actor Billie           in Bad Wolf. “We had a very simple                ity inside a virtual world, which opens
Piper being a “perfect match” for I Hate       motivation. It’s called proximity. Sky            up almost infinite creative opportuni-
Suzie writer Lucy Prebble’s vision for         [does not have] the right to stop them            ties for spatial creation.”
her show, but said he would not have           from doing what they think makes                     But Davey brought the focus back
wanted to start from a position of “hav-       sense for their company. However, we              to the human element in production
ing to find a project for Billie – it just     have a proximity to the Bad Wolf team             – and particularly the mental health
doesn’t make sense to me”. He said he          that is really helpful to both of us.”            challenges that many currently face.
would rather find the right actor for a          Wark asked if Sky had a first-look                 “We will have a rethink about how
brilliant story.                               deal with Bad Wolf or other indies.               we deal with our freelance commu-
   Davey explained his view on “the            “Only in a very vague, soft way.… They            nity,” he said. “When you say to a
really tricky balance” of creative free-       are independent companies that need               young person, look, you need to go
dom: Sky might have many conversa-             to make shows for everyone. And we                home and self-isolate for 14 days,
tions at the script development phase,         want to encourage them to be success-             because someone you were working
but, once production had started, “you         ful.” Davey clarified that Sky Studios            with has had a positive test – what
have to have enormous trust in your            was not actively seeking more such                happens to them? Who’s taking care
director and the rest of the team.… I          relation­ships, “but never say never. We          of them? That is still a gap that we
very rarely visit sets – I don’t think it is   are highly opportunistic”.                        have yet to address.” n
constructive.”                                   Which is not a word that could be
   While Sky did not do talent deals,          used to describe its commitment to               Report by Omar Mehtab. Gary Davey,
Wark noted that it had taken stakes in         build a 11-hectare studio complex in             who is retiring as CEO of Sky Studios in
independent producers, such as Bad             Elstree, Hertfordshire. The 12 sound             summer 2021, was in conversation with
Wolf, maker of His Dark Materials. Davey       stages will open in 2022 and support             Kirsty Wark. The event was part of the
explained that Sky Studios “took a very,       some 1,500 production jobs. Davey said           RTS Digital Convention 2020, sponsored by
very small equity piece” alongside HBO         that Sky and its owner, Comcast, had             YouTube. The producer was Helen Scott.

Television December 2020/January 2021                                                                                            19
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