'I had a conversation with Grant Mansfield, who was head of (ITV) docs and features,' says RDF director of programmes Stephen Lambert - executive producer of Dynasties.
'He said he thought ITV would be interested in a biography series that was popular but not as straight-forward as biographies of individuals.'
Hence the idea for Dynasties, a series of 50-minute famous family biographies scheduled to fill the relatively up-market slot vacated by News at Ten - a programming and scheduling first for ITV.
So no doubt plenty of thought went into the subject matter? Not exactly.
It was more a case of the Getty, Gucci and Kennedy families will do for a start, let's get the proposal in.
Producer/director Mark Rubins admits: 'ITV commissioned the entire series pretty much on the back of one side of A4. Everyone at RDF was actually quite surprised when the commission came through. It wasn't as if anyone had secured interviews with two Gettys, three Kennedys and a Gucci.'
Mansfield greenlit the project in October 1998 when work began on securing two Gettys, three Kennedys and a Gucci.
'I was keen to interview only people who had first-hand knowledge of the family,' says Rubin. Interviewees included the imprisoned Gucci wife who ordered the assassination of her husband and the Mafia lawyer who organised the meeting between Joseph Kennedy and Mafia boss Sam Giancana, to negotiate the Kennedy sons' path to political power.
Some interviewees were harder to get than others.
Rosabella Burch, one of the J Paul Getty 'harem' ensconced at the billionaire's Sutton mansion until his death, was the most tricky. 'Rather than money for her interview,' says Rubin, 'the condition was that we had to give her son, who's a sort of drop-out, a job, so we had to concoct some spurious half-promise that we'd consider him for a researcher role.' They're still considering.
The key to any modern history programme, besides interviews, is, of course, archive. With relatively little Getty archive material available film/archive researcher James Smith found an Alan Whicker documentary from the early 1960s to be a crucial source. However, Whicker's permission is still needed to use any of his material. 'He's established his moral right,' says Smith, 'but he was fine as long as he got some money.'
The Getty film also features some dramatic reconstructions of key events, such as the kidnapping of Getty's grandson in Rome.
'There was less archive in the Getty film so there's more of that impressionistic reconstruction,' says Lambert. 'It's the kind of reconstruction that gives a flavour of what it was like, rather than historical drama-type reconstructions.'
While there was a dearth of Getty material available there was an absolute deluge of Kennedy archives. 'You could almost say any date from the late 1950s to the 1960s and there's going to be a Kennedy story,' says Smith.
With around 30 minutes of archive in the Kennedy film, keeping the show within budget became difficult. 'The idea was to have about 20 minutes of archive material per programme,' reveals Smith, 'and we were going to pay market rates for about 15 minutes and another five minutes would be public domain or family archives, which we would get for a preferential rate or free. We had about£10-11,000 per programme for archive but it wasn't by any means what we had at the finish.'
If Dynasties is a success, RDF is hoping for a second series with a bigger budget. And this time there should be time to get some co-production money on board. But this wasn't easy first time around, as Lambert explains.
'The budget was about£150,000 (per show), which was quite tight,' he says. 'We hoped to get co-production money but the timetable that ITV wanted us to work to meant we couldn't. We didn't have all the contributors signed sealed and waiting and therefore we weren't able to go to co-producers.'
So what's different about ITV's first foray into the Reputations/Secret History style biography compared with the way C4 or BBC 2 tackle the genre? 'I kept saying "just think about people you know who watch ITV - your grandmother or your friends",' explains Lambert.
'Just think in that ITV big audience way when you're filming it and cutting it. Think all the time whether this is going to interest them.'
PRODUCTION CREDITSExecutive producer: Stephen Lambert. Producer/director: Mark Rubins. Assistant producer: Claire Seeber. Editor: Jason Savage. Camera: Joe Taylor. Film/archive research: Jim Smith, Matt Ralf. Production manager: Emily Freshwater. Music: The Fratelli Brothers. Titles: Skaramoosh.
TX IS EDITED BY DAVID WOOD (020 7505 8042).