'That's Entertainment': bringing Strictly 2013 to our screens
Controller, Entertainment and Events
My name is Katie Taylor, and I’m the Controller of Entertainment and Events at the BBC. With the Live Strictly Come Dancing shows starting this weekend, now seemed a good time to introduce myself on the About the BBC Blog, explain some of the work the Entertainment and Events department does, and tell you what we’ve been doing to bring the new season of Strictly to our screens this Autumn.
Entertainment and Events (the BBC’s in-house entertainment production teams) makes over 300 hours of television for BBC One, Two, Three and Four, ranging from the likes of Children in Need and Top Gear to quiz shows like Mastermind and factual entertainment programmes like Dragons Den. We’re also responsible for the in-house production of live events like Trooping of the Colour, the Festival of Remembrance and last year’s Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace.
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert.
The aim of many of our programmes is to bring the Nation together around their TV sets and get them talking, whether it’s to witness the first balcony kiss of Prince William and Kate or to watch astrologer Russell Grant being shot from a canon at Wembley.
Put simply, our work is everything from all things Royal and ceremonial, to a cha cha cha in a ballroom, to entrepreneurs going in front of fearsome businessmen to discover whether they're in or out of investing in a wiggly hot water bottle. No day is ever the same and life is far from dull.
My role as Controller is something akin to being the conductor of an orchestra staffed by very talented musicians. I've always believed in employing, and giving credit to, people who are brilliant at their own jobs. That leaves me time to do a lot more of the day to day strategy and forward planning, leaving the creative teams to get on with pursuing the talent we want to work with or making that running order or edit better.
It helps me that I've worked in various production roles for most of my career. I've worked at Channel 4 for many years and many ‘indies’ doing everything from Noel's House Party as a researcher, to Challenge Anneka, to Don't Forget Your Toothbrush and Comic Relief, so I understand the production issues.
I've also worked as a Commissioner on Graham Norton's chat show both at Channel 4 and at BBC. So I also understand the importance of talent. I am quite 'front of house' and I will do a lot of business with agents and talent talking about ideas, what they might want to do, and persuade them to come and work with BBC in-house. I see that my job is a bit of flag waving: “come and work with us, we're fun, you're going to have a nice time and do good work".
As I mentioned earlier, this weekend sees the return of one of the most popular of our in-house productions, Strictly Come Dancing. And it’s a milestone in the programme’s history too, with a new production team and a new studio location.
Logistically speaking, there have been months and months of planning leading up to this point, one of the biggest challenges being how to open each programme. Television Centre was such an iconic building, that the opening ‘topshot’ with the voiceover "Live from Television Centre" was an obvious introduction, but having moved out of TVC to studios in Borehamwood, we weren’t convinced that "Live from Elstree Studios" and a shot of a car park would have the same impact.
We had to think creatively of how we would address the challenge of launching the show at Elstree. Our new Executive Producer Louise Rainbow, came up with the idea of a 1940's Gatsby inspired, glitzy film premiere feel, with a red carpet and a vintage car for Bruce and Tess to arrive in. Influenced by the final from last year, the 2013 celebrities made their appearance in front of popping paparazzi, pyrotechnics, music and glitz. The end product felt a bit more of an occasion than our usual launches. It was a lot of logistics for around three minutes of telly, but it was all about spectacle for the opening of our new ballroom. Indeed it was the highest rating ‘launch’ show, since Strictly began.
Our new location at Elstree Studios presented some production challenges too. The studio is much bigger than TC1 (Strictly’s previous home at Television Centre) meaning we had the opportunity to design a bigger set (one which at Elstree we don’t need to dismantle at the end of every live show). Our challenge was to make the set look the same but include some enhancements. Our set designer Patrick Docherty was able to make some changes on a very tight budget, which in turn brought the live orchestra closer (we are one of the few live shows that has a live orchestra) led by the wonderful Dave Arch.
The 2013 Strictly Come Dancing group in their new surroundings at Elstree Studios.
The larger studio also allowed us to bring in an extra 200 members of the audience and offer them raked seating as opposed to the ‘flat’ audience seating at TC1. What that means is it's a big enough scale for the dancers, performers and presenters to get a wall of sound back from the crowd without losing the intimacy which we know audiences have really loved in previous series.
Last year the standard of dance in the final was so high and we were keen to maintain that, so this series we have introduced a ‘dance captain’ or ‘master choreographer’ in the shape of Jason Gilkinson, who worked with us at the Wembley show last year. Our professional dancers are brilliant, and we have five fantastic new ones joining the line-up, but the run can be physically and emotionally draining, so Jason will be there to give them extra support, he will go into the training rooms in the week, see what the teams are planning and assist them if he can.
This year we’ll also be back at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool part-way through the series. The ballroom is a beautiful venue with classic chandeliers, and importantly opens up the opportunity for 1000 members of the public across the north of England to be a part of the experience. At a time of tightening budgets, this outside broadcast is something Strictly’s exec Louise Rainbow really passionately fought for. "We have to take dance to the people," I remember her saying in early planning meetings. I really agree. The dancers and our Judges have all performed and judged competitions there, so it’s a very emotional experience for them when they step out onto the floor in the natural home of ballroom dancing. And for the competitors, there’s the challenge that "Oh, I must get to Blackpool - if I get there, I might be in with a chance of winning."
Strictly is a really warm piece of feel-good, escapist entertainment. I get a tingle when the music begins as I sit in the back of the gallery and I know that audiences feel the same way about the programme – a programme they rightly own because of the amount of time they’ve invested in the series over the years. There’s nothing better than striking up a conversation with someone, who when they learn I am involved in the programme, start to tell me what they like and what they don’t like. That a programme has that effect is an amazing thing and another reason why I feel incredibly proud to be a part of it.
Katie Taylor is Controller of Entertainment and Events at the BBC.