TBI Weekly: Why commissioners should be hunting their own ‘Baby Reindeer’

Baby Reindeer (Source: Netflix)

With Netflix’s Baby Reindeer currently dominating the cultural water cooler conversation, Anthony Kimble, TBI’s resident scripted expert and CEO of Arrested Industries, argues that taking risks on new voices will lead to far more success than playing it safe with the same old formulas.

Given that everyone seems to agree that ‘peak TV’ is going the way of the dodo, I have little doubt that commissioning editors and network execs the world over are feeling just as vexed as we producers.

But how are they looking to stop this downward spiral and find the next big original breakout hit? Putting the reboots, sequels and prequels aside – and the now extensive mining of games IP – rather bizarrely, almost every network or platform I have talked to in the last six months has used the same mix of buzzwords for the new content they want: propulsive, prestigural, action-thrillers, broad-based and commercial. Y. A. W. N!

How I long for the heady days when I knew to tune in to HBO for thoughtful, high-end drama, CBS for the latest Dick Wolf procedural or Paramount+ for a good formulaic thriller. Give it a few more years, and you won’t be able to tell the difference between any of the channels as they will all be transmitting the same paint-by-numbers, unchallenging drivel – televisual fast-food that the shareholders seem to think will keep people paying their monthly subscriptions. However, just as the legacy media companies messed up trying to keep up with Netflix, this panic-induced pivot to lowest common denominator TV is set to fail.

Haven’t we all been exposed to too much great television to now settle for wall-to-wall ordinary? I’m not sure anyone has unlocked the Holy Grail to consistently making mind-blowing TV – content that stops you in your tracks, grabs headlines and becomes such a universal talking point that it leaves an indelible mark on the industry and audiences alike. But sometimes it just happens, as it has with Netflix’s Baby Reindeer.

Anthony Kimble

No risk, no reward

In a very short time, Baby Reindeer has become part of the cultural conversation, with audience numbers increasing every week. This ‘small’, some might say, slightly odd series has been on an incredible trajectory, and I’ve followed its enigmatic journey from obscurity to acclaim with interest. Why has this series risen above the rest?

Written by and starring Richard Gadd, Baby Reindeer offers a gripping exploration of trauma and obsession, blurring the lines between reality and performance in a way that leaves audiences spellbound.

Gadd’s fearless portrayal of his own experiences with stalking laid bare the depths of human vulnerability, inviting viewers to confront uncomfortable truths and empathise with the struggles of its protagonist. Through its unflinching examination of trauma and the complexities of mental health, Baby Reindeer transcends the confines of traditional storytelling with a raw intensity and a level of authenticity that we rarely see – super-authenticity, if you like.

Few of the common boxes are ticked: no gorgeous big-name stars in designer outfits, no guns, action scenes or stunts, no murders, no stereotypes and no incredible sets or locations. Just flawed, yet recognisable, characters and an utterly compelling narrative with a unique pace and style.

Baby Reindeer was ‘birthed’ on the intimate stages of the Edinburgh International Festival and honed and perfected as a play over a number of years. It has this in common with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Michaela Cole’s Chewing Gum. These series, and Cole’s follow-up, I May Destroy You, all defied convention to delve into the complexities of the human experience and introduced us to unapologetically flawed, vulnerable and honest characters – the likes of which we rarely see – and their myriad of issues that sparked countless conversations.

They have all contributed to redefining the television landscape and gone global by showcasing the transformative power of fearless storytelling and unbridled creativity.

So yes, I’m banging my regular ‘risk’ drum and pointing to less obvious sources of amazing IP amid the current land grab for novels and games. Events like Edinburgh and its Fringe are incredible incubators of stories and talent, allowing new voices the freedom to really express themselves and develop ideas with no filter and no network execs breathing down their necks obsessing with viewing figures. It’s rather ironic then that many of these intimate, authentic stories then go on to break records in viewing figures when adapted for TV…

So, as the first emails about the Edinburgh TV Festival start to land in my inbox, I’m booking my place in the city. But instead of watching non-stop panels with execs talking about TV series I’ve already seen, I’ll also be looking for inspiration and new talent amongst the wider festival offering, ever hopeful of finding my own Baby Reindeer to nurture.

Check out Anthony Kimble’s other recent TBI columns:

Diary Notes of a drama producer in LA, 2022 vs 2023

Unpacking the reality of being a producer

Shifting targets in South Africa amid Hollywood shutdown

Will US strikes provide the great Hollywood reset?

Hollywood’s fatal attraction to reboots

Why Hollywood’s C-suite shouldn’t be biting the hand that feeds it

In the long run… I’ll always love a limited series

Arrested’s Anthony Kimble on staying nimble in a rocky market

The renaissance of co-production in the age of downturn

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