BBC COMMISSIONINGBBC - Commissioning - Controller Q&A: Mark Linsey on his latest commissioning priorities for Entertainment

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Controller Q&A: Mark Linsey on his latest commissioning priorities for Entertainment



Controller of Entertainment Commissioning:

Mark Linsey


Can you tell us about anything you’ve commissioned recently or that’s about to hit our screens?

We have a new game show starting on Saturday teatime on BBC One called Don’t Scare the Hare. It’s a new gameshow with a difference because it’s got a mechanical hare in it and I think that is the big thing to take from it – it has a real point of difference and distinctiveness about it - it’s co-presented by a hare! I think distinction is key to almost all our formats. A point of difference that will draw attention to it.


New to BBC One teatime - Don't Scare The Hare


What’s your most pressing commissioning priority at the moment?

Saturday nights is always a priority for us. We don’t get enough new ideas for Saturday night whether that’s in peak or at teatime. We just don’t get many ideas through the door and the ideas we do get feel very derivative. I appreciate that it’s difficult to be distinctive on Saturday night but that is always a priority for us. I would say at the moment that’s where we have most of our spend so it should also be a priority for indies and in house.

What slots are available now?

QI has just moved back to BBC Two so that means there are slots for 8.30 on Friday.

Can any company of any size pitch to you, even for Saturday night?

Yes. It’s very much about the idea. We’re up for taking risks. I think Don’t Scare the Hare will prove that. We’re just into the idea and we don’t mind where it comes from. If the company or the individual doesn’t have the expertise we will put them with someone who had. We’re commissioning more indies into Saturday night than ever before.

With the recent change in channel controller is there any new brief for the sort of shows you’re looking for BBC One?

I suppose QI moving from BBC One to BBC Two means there is an opportunity there and it’s a chance to do something a bit different on the channel but Saturday night BBC One is always a challenge. I think Danny is up for doing something a bit different and taking risks and being a bit fresh but in terms of the priorities that hasn’t changed.

If a supplier is looking to develop ideas for primetime Saturday night what sort of timeframe can they expect from first pitch to a show getting on air?

It varies enormously and can be anywhere from six months to two years. It depends on the opportunity and the idea. Don’t Scare the Hare has taken a lot of development. It was a very bold, very fresh idea so it has taken nearly two years to get on air.

The Magicians took six months. It was quite a clear proposition, not without its challenges and very difficult to get on air, but something like Don’t Scare the Hare needed a lot more development. It was an original concept from the indie which we developed with them because we liked something in it. The driver for us was to do something new on prime time BBC One on a Saturday.

If you think back to Strictly Come Dancing it was a very bold commission to put Ballroom dancing into the heart of the Saturday night schedule. It was a risk, but a risk that proved very worth taking. That is where we have to be - prepared to take risks, which also means being prepared to fail.

What do you get pitched too much of?

I think we get pitched a lot of ‘two families competing over five rounds to win some money’ - standard fodder for Saturday night eight to ten years ago. These days a nice format, nice game play, a nice host, a nice bit of money is not distinctive enough.

Now formats need to scream for attention. They need to be attention seeking. That means distinction, whether it’s something like Hole in the Wall or Total Wipeout – in the host, or in the ‘live-ness’ of the event - that’s what is required – but it still needs more than that. We get an awful lot of ideas that are derivative of one another.

Does it help if suppliers come in with something on tape when they are pitching to you?

Yes it does. It helps us understand the look and the form and the attitude. I think it’s very helpful for BBC Three formats in particular. It could be a casting tape, where you can see that the company understands the tone and attitude for Three and that can be illustrated in a modest way on a pitching tape.

Do you have money for pilots?

Yes! We have money to spend and we want to spend it. We’re quite careful how we spend it, but yes.

Should suppliers be pitching you online content alongside TV ideas?

I think it’s good to be aware of what the online content could be and how it could enhance the linear show but really what we’re looking for is a strong idea that’ll work on television and then that’ll carry through to the online content.

Junior Doctors was commissioned by you and has recently been really successful for BBC Three. It’s not necessarily the most obvious commission to come out of your area. How should suppliers know whether to pitch something like that to you or elsewhere?

I think it’s always down to your relationships. It’s from in-house Entertainment. They pitched us a very strong casting tape featuring some fantastic characters. It was a no-brainer really. They had the access and the characters and certainly, in an environment like that, you’ll have the narrative and the story. It’s been beautifully executed, well told, and there isn’t too much structure around it which I think people are a bit tired of these days. It’s about your relationship with the commissioner. Yes, that could have come out of Knowledge but we had a good relationship and that’s what I’d encourage people to develop.

Should I pitch directly to you or send my idea in via e-commissioning?

I would do both. You have to get your ideas on to e-commissioning, which is a simple thing to do, but you should also get it in front of me or one of my execs.

What entertainment programme or series from another broadcaster are you most envious of?

Harry Hill I’ve always loved. It’s a show to cherish and admire. Million Pound Drop is always a compelling watch. The show I’m dreading but also looking forward to is Britain’s Got Talent.

Find out more about the current entertainment commissioning priorities.

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