To call the US in the 1960s a broad canvas is an understatement. The decade that ended the global view of America from the white picket fences of the post-War era encompassed so many seminal moments that single docs on the subject often don’t cut muster.
That’s part of the reason Jeff Zucker and his team at CNN Films put a ten-part series that would eventually become The Sixties into development.
“They were brainstorming ideas on what to do for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK in 1963,” says Hayley Dickson, VP, television acquisitions and development, global content for FremantleMedia International, the show’s distributor. “As they discussed the seminal themes of the decade they realised how many ‘first times’ and revolutionary moments were captured in this one decade.”
After developing the idea, CNN approached doc maker Mark Herzog, award-winning producer Gary Goetzman and legendary big screen actor Tom Hanks to collaborate on the project. All three were known to former NBCUniversal president Zucker as experts on the era.
Dickson calls the resulting production set up – CNN’s original docs unit CNN Films, Herzog and Company, Goetzman and Hanks’ Playtone – as “lightning in a bottle”. “Tom, Mark and Gary have encyclopaedic knowledge of the ‘60s and had a big interest in being personally involved in the series,” she adds. “They brought their knowledge, expertise and passion to the project.”
The series covers major events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the Cold War with the USSR, social change and racial politics, innovations in technology and the ‘British Invasion’ of Beatlemania.
Indeed, music of the day is a central theme. “Each episode is packed full of iconic music that topped the charts at the time,” says Dickson. “There is a great emotional synergy between the music and the content.”
Each episode includes digitally remastered archive footage, raw footage, and interviews with experts and eyewitnesses of historic moments.
In the US, the show debuted with a 90-minute JFK assassination special in November, which was the number of cable news broadcast 9-11pm, averaging 508,000 viewers. The British Invasion music episode went out in January and was the number two cable news telecast but outperformed MSNBC among total viewers and 25-54s. More episodes follow in the US from May.
Having experienced success in the US, Dickson says FMI is set up for sales, and a global marketing campaign is underway ahead of a full launch at MIPTV next week.
“In terms of audiences, whilst it will skew towards a slightly older 25-64 demo, it will appeal to audiences of all age groups and equally men and women – few decades has the breadth of impact of the sixties,” she says.
FMI will target the full spectrum of channels, from FTA broadcaters, pay TV channels and commercial speciality networks. “We are increasingly seeing non-linear platforms interested in this type of content also, and in some markets, might be the first to air,” says Dickson.
“The real challenge will be selecting the broadcaster partner that brings the most value to the series, not only monetary, but a commitment to premium promotion, marketing and schedule.”
Ultimately, “the series is equally about nostalgia and discovery,” says Dickson.
The show: The Sixties
The producer: CNN, Playtone, Herzog & Company
The distributor: FremantleMedia International (ex. US)
The broadcaster: CNN (US)
The concept: A broad ten-part doc series looking at the key moments from 1960s America