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Thursday, 27th January 2011

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

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