2nd February 2012 USA

The REAL (Screen) Producers of DC

Creativity is GREAT Britain

This week Washington welcomed the best and brightest in reality and unscripted television industry to the (sold-out) 14th Annual RealScreen Summit. Home to non-fiction powerhouses like Discovery Communications, The National Geographic Channel and PBS, the event here brought together the top creative talent who develop the shows we love (or love to hate), like Wife Swap, Super Nanny, Survivor, Big Brother, American Idol, Real Housewives, The X Factor, Undercover Boss – and the list goes on.

Britain certainly has talent in reality TV and chances are that your favourite reality show traces its roots across the pond, where American Idol started as Pop Idol, and Dancing with the Stars launched as Strictly Come Dancing, before earning their US Visas.

The United Kingdom has a GREAT tradition of creative media – the world leader in the production and export of innovative TV formats. If you’re looking for the next big show, it’s probably being made right now in the UK by an independent producer. The UK is home to roughly 1500 independent production companies, supporting content offered on more than 600 terrestrial, digital, satellite and cable TV channels.

This week’s UK Delegation to RealScreen offered a cross-section of the kinds of innovative producers that regularly cross the Atlantic in search of US networks to air their creations. Leeds-based Daisybeck Productions, for example, produced the NBCUniversal Emmy-nominated hit Too Fat for 15, which airs on the Style Network. And British TV producer Studio Lambert, now part of the global production and distribution group All3Media (another UK delegate), launched Undercover Boss on Channel 4 in the UK before CBS aired it in 2010.

But don’t get me wrong.

The US benefits from taking its shows to the UK as well. Some of America’s most successful networks have set up shop in Britain, working with companies like the BBC to develop programmes such as Planet Earth and Life. PBS, America’s public broadcaster, recently opened up shop in London’s Tech City to bring its leading news shows, Frontline and News Hour, to the British public.

On the production front, (British-born) US hit television producer Mark Burnett has recently invaded Britain with a fresh reality show based on Cee Lo Green — a star from Burnett’s own US-based reality series The Voice. Tapping each other’s viewership is becoming something of an art form, it seems, offering producers and broadcasters the opportunity to expand their audiences to a highly-developed, ready-made reality marketplace – with little translation needed.

So what makes these shows so universally compelling? What causes UK content to travel so well? Perhaps Lauren Zalaznick, Chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment, Digital Networks and Integrated Media, said it best in her keynote address at this week’s summit. She said that at any given time, the biggest shows on TV tend to reflect the values a nation shares at that time. They hit ‘the head, the heart and the gut’ of the viewer. She also talked about reality TV having the ‘Me Plus’ factor – where the viewer can relate to the circumstances in the show on some level, yet the circumstances are often exaggerated — a key reason why we watch. I may have been pregnant, for example, but not 17 times.

So the next time you tune in to your favourite reality TV show, whether it’s The Apprentice or Extreme Makeover, be sure to listen for an ever-so-faint British accent.

About Melinda Goforth

Melinda’s background includes roles in public affairs, government relations, trade and economic development. Prior to her role with the Embassy, Melinda served as Race Director for the Susan G. Komen…

Melinda’s background includes roles in public affairs, government relations, trade and economic development. Prior to her role with the Embassy, Melinda served as Race Director for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Puget Sound, and as Director of Partnerships for in the Washington Office of Habitat for Humanity International. She served as a staffer to the US Senate Judiciary Committee under Vice President Biden’s tenure as Ranking Member.

Melinda earned her bachelor’s degree at Santa Clara University and her master’s at The London School of Economics. A native of Seattle, she enjoys dancing, golfing and American football.

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