Knickerbockerglory is to apply the ‘down-the-lens’ technique of its Channel 5 documentary I’m An Alcoholic: My Name Is… to five further subject areas.
The indie will meet people with eating disorders, mental illness, facial and body disfigurements, as well as individuals who have had affairs for the programmes, each of which will be badged Me and My…
The shows, which could air as a series or single docs, were ordered by factual commissioning editor factual Emma Westcott and will be executive produced by Jonathan Stadlen and Natalie Von Hurter.
Speaking at a C5 panel at Sheffield Doc/Fest, the director of programmes Ben Frow said he admired the “simplicity” of the approach of the alcoholism documentary, in which people spoke straight to the camera about their experiences.
“These were great people with great stories,” he said. “No reconstruction, no actuality, just straight down the lens, stripping away all the stuff around it and doing simple television. That’s where C5 is quite brave sometimes. We can innovate, we can change the rules of television in a meaningful way.”
Knickerbockerglory’s one-off doc pulled in an audience of 1.1m (6.1%) in a 10pm slot in January.
Frow told Broadcast of his ambition to “own” the visual style as an entry point to difficult subjects. “We’re using the visual technique to explore slightly more challenging areas for C5: slightly less populist and mainstream but programmes that I feel very strongly we should be doing,” he said.
“We’re a PSB, I personally believe we have responsibilities to do history, comedy, drama, current affairs and challenging programmes that are not just about ratings. It was ambitious for us and it was reputational for us.”
On his first visit to Doc/Fest, Frow was keen to impress on documentary makers that no subject was off-limits and correct perceptions that “C5 was a bit shit”.
“There are a lot of snobby people out there who look down their noses at C5, thinking we’re not very good, we’re not intelligent, we’re derivative, we’re copycat,” he said.
“We are a clever, smart, opinionated, emotional, populist channel. We understand our viewers very well and never look down our nose at them.”
Daisybeck Studios’ Body Donors, for example, “would have won all the awards” if it had been made by another broadcaster, while Knickerbockerglory’s GPs Behind Closed Doors, which was recently recommissioned for another 30 episodes, is “incredibly underrated”.
Frow also used the platform to bang the drum for small indies.
According to Pact’s census, indies with a turnover of less than £5m secure 15% of their business from the channel, compared to 11% from the BBC, 4% from Channel 4 and just 1% from ITV.
“I generally find that smaller indies are hungrier, more passionate, work harder and want to prove themselves,” he said.
“For the super-indie, my commission might be paying the electricity bill or helping them to hit targets; I don’t feel I get the very guts of the talent at super-indies and some of my most unsuccessful shows have come from them. We have a much higher strike-rate of success from smaller indies.”
Next week, Frow will receive pitches for a “major” history series for 2017, from a tender he put out to five indies with which C5 has never previously worked.
“They might have a certain kind of tone or a certain kind of expertise,” he told Broadcast.
“Instead of going out to the great big sure-fire ones, I’d much rather work with a smaller company with a new approach to a well-trodden historical theme. It’s ambitious and risky for us – not all history rates, but I feel we should do all this sort of thing.”
Meanwhile, presenters Dan Jones and Suzannah Lipscomb are set to follow up their programme Henry VIII and his Six Wives with a similar approach to Elizabeth I.