Julie Swanston is VP, commissioning for BBC Worldwide Channels. She will commission a minimum of 83 hours of content a year for Brit and Earth, with Liam Keelan, director of scripted, overseeing BBC First. For BBC Brit, she will commission four original, factual-entertainment series across four core key filters: camaraderie, expertise, wit and jeopardy.
Describing the editorial must-haves at a London conference late last year, she said: “We are looking for series that have a clear mission and sense of purpose for BBC Earth, the Earth Unplugged slot will be exhilarating, lean-forward television. Expertise is critical, but it must be matched by entertainment; they are of equal importance in the content we are seeking for BBC Earth.”
BBC Earth falls under the remit of Mark Reynolds, the former commercial director for factual at Worldwide, who was made genre director for factual last year.
The Earth commissioning team also includes Kirsty Hanson (right), who joined from Warner Bros. prodco Twenty Twenty earlier this year. She has a particular focus on the Earth Unplugged slot with a remit to greenlight “adrenalin-fuelled, fast paced and visceral adventure series that have British talent at their centre”.
Worldwide’s director of factual entertainment and entertainment content, Tracy Forsyth (pictured), will also be instrumental in the decision-making.
“There will be about 40 hours a year for each, maybe more on Earth,” she says. “We’ll also do local commissions, as we did Come Dine With Me South Africa, which has run to three seasons [on the BBC Entertainment channel].”
“We’re always looking for pop science and engineering and survival, but it is more about the tone than the genre”
For Earth, finding the next great presenting personality is a key quest. “We’re always looking for the next adventure hero,” Forsyth says, “Indiana Jones or Lara Croft figures who grew up with David Attenborough posters on their walls. We want new charismatic storytellers who are mission-focused, who don’t stand back and observe; they get their hands dirty.”
Brit is about hitting a core male 25-44 demo, but also being inclusive with traditional male topics covered in a way that does not alienate the female audience. “We’re always looking for pop science and engineering and survival, but it is more about the tone [than the specific genre],” says Forsyth. “We want to see some cheekiness and mischievousness on screen, mixed with expertise.”
Typically, first runs of commissioned series will run to six or, ideally, ten episodes.
There are two commissioning summits a year in London, one in January and one before MIPCOM and would-be partners will ideally come to the table with some financing already in place, as Worldwide does not want to fully fund. BBC Worldwide channels Brit and BBC America coproduce Mud, Sweat and Gears, for example.
“We want to coproduce, so there should be a partner,” says Forsyth. “If someone has a US or UK copro partner, we can take the rights for the rest of the world.”