Commissioning tips from BBC Three

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BAFTA breakfast bbc three

From left to right: event chair Benji Wilson; channel controller Zai Bennett; documentaries commissioning editor Charlotte Moore; comedy commissioning editor Chris Sussman and entertainment executive producer Sean Hancock


BAFTA recently hosted a talk with key decision makers from BBC Three to discuss the channel’s current roster of programming and future commissioning opportunities. Here are the highlights.

Sponsored by Pinewood, the event featured channel controller Zai Bennett; entertainment executive producer Sean Hancock; comedy commissioning editor Chris Sussman; and documentaries commissioning editor Charlotte Moore.

The Knowledge was there to hear what the commissioners had to say about their current slate; tips on commissioning; and what types of shows they’re looking for.

BBC Three channel overview

Before the discussion kicked off, the audience was treated to a montage showcasing some of BBC Three’s key shows, including: Our War, Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, Him & Her, Bad Education, Unzipped and Cuckoo.

After the montage, it was down to business.

Zai Bennett, BBC Three’s controller, said the channel - aimed at 16-34 year olds - was all about innovation, innovation and innovation, and said: “It’s a channel never afraid of trying new things, with the aim to make people laugh and think.”

So, what makes the Beeb’s heart skip a beat?

Chris Sussman, who’s in charge of comedy, found it difficult to put parameters on the types of shows he’s after, as “it’s an open book”. He did stress though that as long as it’s funny, chances are he’ll take a look at it. More so, if something surprises the commissioners and if it hasn’t been seen before, it’s likely they’ll consider taking it forward.  

When it comes to drama the commissioners said that despite the success of Being Human and Lip Service, the number of drama commissions for the channel has come right down. It’s a sad state of affairs but the channel said they are now only making one series per year.

Although there are no holes as such, Charlotte Moore, looking after the channel’s documentaries, would like to see new formats. She said that though popular, shows such as Don’t Tell the Bride and Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents “won’t last forever”.

Moore’s particularly interested in new shows centering on young people’s own prejudices – such as racism. Programmes set abroad (like The World’s Strictest Parents) and journalistic docs with a new voice would also be of interest to the channel.

Talking of new voices, the commissioners praised Watershed TV’s The Truth About Magaluf, which aired on the channel in January. Looking at the darker side of the popular holiday resort, the one-off documentary unveiled some startling truths. Fronted by Stacey Dooley, this type of investigative journalism was perfect for the channel Moore said, “because it was intelligent and had a voice”.


What nobody wants to see at BBC Three

It sounds a bit harsh but schools, wars and babies are three subjects the commissioners want to stay away from. Already covered with the likes of Bad Education, Our War (praised by Moore for its courage and subject matter) and Birthing Britain Season, a proposed show with any of these themes would have to be very unique to be considered. 

Combining music and comedy – no laughing matter

The channel will continue to transmit live music events, such as Glastonbury and T in the Park, and might even consider broadcasting a concert from an artist who appeals the channel’s audience - such as Emeli Sande.

Rather than concentrating just on music however, BBC Three would prefer to broadcast a show that combines music with comedy and entertainment.

The channel says it would also be interested in a new animated show, but as it would have to compete with the likes of Family Guy and American Dad! it would have to be of a superb quality in order for a chance to compete.


Warning: filmmakers, don’t self-censor!

Entertainment executive producer Sean Hancock advised filmmakers not to self-censor, and stressed: “If there’s a will, it will get done.” In the case of prank show The Revolution Will Be Televised, despite controversy surrounding some of the stunts, all of the items were executed in accordance with BBC guidelines.


Commissioning tips

To sum it all up, here’s a list of handy tips and things that will help ease your mind:

• The commissioners receive lots of submissions on paper, so try and back it up with a taster video.
• The taster video should ideally be 1-4 minutes long. It doesn’t have to be neatly edited – as long as it leaves the commissioners wanting more. 
• Keep an eye on what’s already on BBC Three - you’ll to get an idea of the tone of programmes they like.
• Get a production company on your side. The commissioners will only consider a project that comes from one.
• If you’re a writer and haven’t already done so – get yourself an agent.
• The script has to be the core of the programme.
• Bennett stressed: Everything gets seen!
• And last but not least - keep persevering.

For further information on BBC Three’s key programme areas and commissioning advise, click here.


Details on the productions mentioned above (including key credits) can be found on Production Intelligence, the online database of advance productions from The Knowledge:

production intelligence