The North East team which has cornered the market in archive-based programming revealed its secrets for success to the RTS April event W you don't win commissions for ITV, C4, five and Sky One just by making lists.
"We're journalists: we want to inform you, make you laugh and make you think".
The presentation by Granada's Mark Robinson (Executive Producer), Helen Spencer and Mark Murray (producer/directors) set out to nail myths about list-based programmes.
- They're not cheap W "clips costs between £3K - £5K … it's cheaper to run old programmes than to commission these"
- They're not easy W securing exclusive stories and star interviews needs skills and ambition
- They're not wallowing in nostalgia W it's the wealth of new insights and stories which keep the viewers glued to the set
The clincher for the commissioners W audiences just can't turn them off. It's a rare programme which can build all evening and deliver three million viewers at midnight. The recent 100 GREATEST ALBUMS went even further than that W a week later its influence could be seen in album sales, especially in a surge of sales for little-known artists.
To hold a viewer all evening needs high production values, explained Mark Robinson. "The show has to take you on a journey like a feature film. You need ups, downs, laughs, tears W the pacing is crucial."
The genre began to develop in the late 1990s. John Whiston produced theme nights at the BBC before moving to Yorkshire TV; the turn of the millennia encouraged an interest in lists; and the first-ever three hour countdown show was scheduled by Channel Four about TV MOMENTS.
"We thought it was a one-off," admitted Mark. Then ITV wanted a slice of the action and the AFTER THEY WERE FAMOUS brand was invented.
There have now been 16 100 GREATEST and 14 AFTER THEY WERE FAMOUS W including Grease, Upstairs Downstairs, the Waltons, Star Trek and (best-known) The Sound of Music.
The department is busier than ever, with commissions running well into 2006. In fact Mark Robinson felt the greatest challenge now isn't winning commissions W it's securing staff with the high level of factual entertainment skill needed. A new trainee role has been created to help fill the gap.
A preview was shown of the forthcoming 100 GREATEST WAR FILMS W it runs at more than six hours and has taken a year to make.
"This is as good a definitive history of the war film as has ever been made," said Mark Murray W he hoped it would raise awareness about little-known classics as well as provide insights into the better-known blockbusters.
The programmes include many big names including Stephen Spielberg and the last interview by Sir John Mills. It's been easier than some to secure agreement for interviews: "When you drop in 'Stephen's doing it' it does sort of help" laughed Mark.
By Olwyn Hocking