Spring Update From BBC NI Commissioner Susan Lovell


Spring is nearly here and from a TV commissioning point of view, the world is full of possibilities.

We always want to hear from great talent with top ideas. If your concept is really arresting, sounds like a great programme, definitely has an audience and makes you excited, it's probably a good commission.

We are also taking the opportunity this year to widen our search for new on-screen talent.  This spring we are asking that every pitch to us is accompanied by details of one new talent attached to your idea.

This might include presenter, expert, contributor, commentator or enthusiastic other – but each should come with a 90 second clip attached. The BBC is continuing to hardwire diversity and inclusion into all its decisions and we are keen to accelerate our search for the broadest range of talent available here in NI. We are looking for TV naturals who – over time – might be able to develop their talents across a range of content.

This spring we are turning our focus to ideas and proposals that lighten the mood. We are looking in particular for the following:


*new for 2017*

We would like to have more ideas that are cleverly thought-through and offer the possibility of a future series. Recent commissions like Beauty Queen and Single, Made in NI and Keepin ‘er Country all offer lightly formatted ways of bringing content to life.  We’d like to see ideas for formats that we haven’t seen before. Please don’t re-offer from past rounds.


Two Format Pilots, for delivery in 2017


The success of local magazine shows like Getaways and Home Ground, and the reach of BBC network programmes like Eat Well for Less and DIY SOS, show the enduring appeal of the entertaining side of factual content. We want to commission programmes that are about something (they still need a purpose) and then make it entertaining.  Pitch tapes are important, particularly where talent is concerned.  And talent is often attached to these kinds of proposals eg. Murphy and O’Kane Do… and Walk the Line, with Barra Best. We have limited resource for these 7.30pm series, but we would love to commission something that has the potential to be scale-able and returnable. Our programmes must always be accessible and relevant to the lives of the broad BBC One audience and we need ideas with enough scale, drama, warmth and emotional resonance to stand out at this time of day.  We are looking for programming that doesn’t talk down to the audience but really resonates with them.


Two Factual Entertainment Series, for delivery in 2018


The current commissioning round for BBC Gaeilge closes on Friday 10 February 2017, but producers are welcome to contact Karen Kirby, Editor BBC Gaeilge, ahead of the next round in August / September 2017.  A detailed brief for ideas will be issued in June.


Programmes like The Blame Game and Delete, Delete, Delete continue to deliver great audiences and good fun.  The new opportunities lie in developing something fresh and funny – we are not looking for experimental or very niche comedy in this slot.  We’d like to hear from established providers of strong comedy content and we are looking for shows we can pilot as one-offs.  Of particular interest: hidden camera, topical satire or a comedy talk format. 

We’re interested in supporting the development of fresh sitcom pilots, potentially for broadcast in winter 2017/18.  We’re looking for original ideas and compelling, relatable characters for our audience and while we won’t rule anything out at this stage, drunk 20-somethings in flats will be a fantastically hard sell.  Tonally, we’re more interested in bright, broad, ambitious, crafted pieces with tonnes of laughs and heart.  Think Car Share, Not Going Out or Two Doors Down rather than niche, edgy ideas with completely new talent. This is an opportunity to properly engage with writers and help them to develop their comic voice towards a tangible outcome.

Please send a short synopsis and sample scenes so we can get a sense of the writer's unique voice and their key characters. This can be part of a basic episode storyline if you wish. Production companies should have experience in fiction or consider partnering up; writers should have written for TV, radio or theatre. While they needn’t have had a lot of TV broadcast credits - this is not an entry level initiative.


Two Comedy Projects, for 2017 and 2018


We have a broad range of Ulster-Scots-related content in development and production. We are still looking for vibrant and authentic music-related ideas to add to the portfolio.  We are interested both in grassroots musical activity and also in events of scale. We welcome projects which offer co-production possibilities and music-related subject matter/non-traditional genres which has the potential to connect with younger audiences. We are looking for ideas that explore how Ulster-Scots voices and stories have fed into NI’s musical landscape in unexpected ways.

We are open to developing projects which engage with other cultural stakeholders (museums, galleries, universities, etc) who are bringing Ulster-Scots stories to the wider public.  We’d also like to hear from you about drama development - we’re interested in authentic, rooted stories that can hold their own in a very competitive area.

As always, we are open to big ideas, opportunities for landmark projects that present ambitious and unexpected stories in fresh ways.  We’re always keen to see new talent coming through, and projects with potential to make an impact across our different platforms.

Please talk to us if you are interested in developing ideas in this territory.


One Ulster-Scots Music Series, for delivery in 2017

Two Ulster-Scots Landmark Documentaries, for delivery in 2018


We are re-issuing our call for landmark documentaries on a contemporary theme. We are not looking for any more historical or conflict-related proposals. Your film must have other funders attached and be able to play to discerning and broad audiences at 9pm. Please talk to Commissioning Executive, Justin Binding, about broad subject areas – he can let you know what we already have in development.


One 60' Contemporary Landmark Doc/Film, for delivery in 2017

Two 60' Contemporary Landmark Docs/Films, for delivery in 2018


True North is the BBC’s documentary strand for Northern Ireland – a home for films that illuminate and challenge perceptions of what life is like in contemporary Northern Ireland.  We are looking for ever-more creative and insightful ways to tell the true stories of NI life.  This is a slot for film-makers who have a strong vision – we are looking for extraordinary stories told by ordinary people. We want more films that are challenging and intriguing to add to the list of those we have commissioned over eight series.


Two 30' True North films, for delivery in 2017


Deadline for receipt of ideas on BBC Pitch - Tuesday March 21, at 5pm

Commissioning Pitches - Thursday March 30/Monday April 3/Thursday April 6


Some new projects have recently been greenlit; and others are reaching the final stages of development:


Lost Lives 1 x 90’ | DoubleBand Films

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Troubles, Lost Lives will present an alternative history to the conflict.


Adrian and Christine's Friendship Test (w/t) / In House Production

What does friendship mean these days?  Have friends come to matter more than family?  In this new three-part series old pals Christine Bleakley and Adrian Chiles look at the nature of friendship – including their own – and along the way meet fascinating characters, take part in bizarre rituals and settle some long standing disputes.

Survivors - Unheard Voices from the Troubles 3 x 30’ | DoubleBand Films

Amid calls to draw a line under the past and “move on,  the injured and the bereaved reveal the true cost of the Troubles.  

Made in Northern Ireland | Series 2  - 5 x 30’ | Third Street Studios

Further travels around Northern Ireland discovering the latest business ideas set to take the world by storm, and meets the budding entrepreneurs behind them.

Patrick Kielty Country Boy 2 x 30’ | Roughcut Television

Lifelong country music fan Patrick Kielty heads to Nashville to attempt to try and crack the country music scene.  

Getaways | Series 8 - 6 x 30’ | Waddell Media

Travel series featuring holiday destinations that can be reached directly from Ireland, North and South.

A New Age in Politics 1 x 30’ Pilot | Third Street Studios

Stephen Nolan brings a debate and a politician into a school assembly hall in Northern Ireland.


Bullets and Bowls 1 x 30’ | Alleycats TV

Road bowling - the art of throwing a 'bullet' down winding country lanes in a head-to-head battle - is a family tradition in the heart of rural Armagh.  We follow two dynasties - the Mackles and the Toals.

Meet the Roma 1 x 30’ | DoubleBand Films

We encounter them at car washes; we see them selling copies of The Big Issue at the traffic lights and busking on the streets. But what do we know of the Roma community that has made Northern Ireland their home? 

The Flower Shop (w/t) 1 x 30’ | Waddell Media

Situated in the heart of West Belfast, 'Flowers Are Us' owner Eddie McCormick goes above to meet every request, no matter how bizarre – from low-cost wedding flowers and cheap bunches of "I'm sorry" flowers, through to some of the most outlandish traveller coffin arrangements and requests. 

East Belfast Yacht Club (w/t) 1 x 30’ | BBC In-house Production

The small boatyard under the cranes, inhabited by men of a certain age who reminisce about the building of boats in the good old days and ruminate on the meaning of life as it slips by.

Tractor Mad 1 x 30’ | BBC In-house Production

This film will delve into the rising popularity of tractors among young people, who are not ashamed to put on their wellies, jump into the cab of their tractor and show the world that they are proud to be a 'culchie'.


(Conditional commissions, subject to support from the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund)

A Sketch of Ulster 6 x 30’ | Below the Radar TV

A series exploring and celebrating traditional culture in Ulster.  Filmed in the Ulster-Scots heartlands, including Ards, East Antrim and Donegal, the series will explore crafts, music, architecture, local history and faith in a range of Ulster-Scots communities.

Brave New World – Back Home 1 x 30’ | DoubleBand Films

William Crawley brings it all back home to explore the wider themes that connect and underpin the experiences of the Ulster-Scots diaspora.

Wedding Town 3 x 30’ | Waddell Media

Greyabbey (Greba) is an area steeped in history.  This series follows three couples preparing to tie the knot three. They want the day to reflect the music, dancing, language, food and dress of their forefathers as they form a modern-day Ulster-Scots marriage themselves.

Our Village Life – Ballycarry 1 x 30’ | Erica Starling

An observational documentary celebrating the life and people of the small Ulster-Scots village of Ballycarry in County Antrim.  We document community life through the villagers' contact with the Reverend Gabrielle Farquhar, minister of Ballycarry Presbyterian Church.   

In My Family Footsteps - Into Development | 3 x 30’ | Waddell Media

This three-part series will see three families confront and embrace their Ulster-Scots roots by leaving behind their comfortable homes and relocating to 18th century cottages.  


Big Jam Roll 1 x 30’ Pilot | Hole in the Wall Gang

The Hole in the Wall Gang bring together the latest clutch of emerging local comedy talent  and mentor them as they undertake to create, write and perform in a brand new comedy sketch show for BBCNI, Big Jam Roll.


The following projects were awarded funding in the last commissioning round by BBC Gaeilge and the Irish Language Broadcast Fund, and will go into production in the coming weeks:

Ó Shíol go Saol (working title), 2x30' / Imagine Media 

An observational series looking at a year in the life of the Gaeilgeoirí from West Belfast.

Cumhacht an Cheoil, 3x30' / DoubleBand Films

Musician and composer, Neil Martin will shed a light on the various ways in which music impacts on our lives.

Faduda - online digital 'channel' for 18-30 year olds / Paper Owl Films

An ambitious 4-month project creating an online hub for this hard-to-reach age group who, in general, don't watch linear television or listen to the radio.  Vlogs and custom-made videos will be produced in various areas, including sport, music, travel, lifestyle and day-to-day issues.

Ar an Bhóthar (working title) - 2x30' / Macha Media

An observational series exploring some of the changes happening in Donegal society, through the prism of bus journeys.

Féile an Phobail @ 30 - 1x60' / Dearcán Media

Féile an Phobail will be 30 years old in 2017. This documentary is a timely look at why Féile got started, and how it has lived up to its 'community' ethos - or not.

Mná na nGlinntí - 1x60' / Imagine Media

Margaret Dobbs, Rose Young, Ada McNeill and Margaret Hutton make up the foursome of friends who spent much of their time in the Glens of Antrim. This documentary, presented by Mary McAleese, will profile this exceptional group of Protestant women who spear-headed the cultural and linguistic Gaelic revival at the turn of the 20th Century.

Luther @ 500 (working title) - in development - 1x60' / Waddell Media 

To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in October 2017, Dr Art Hughes examines the impact of Martin Luther and his ideas on the Gaelic-speaking peoples, in particular why Scottish Gaels became Protestant while Irish Gaels remained Catholic.


Blind, Deaf, Lame (working title) 6 x 4’ | DoubleBand Films

Those lost limbs, were mutilated, blinded or rendered deaf as a result of the conflict show just what Troubles-related disability means on a daily basis.

The Disciples/Wise Men from the East 1 x 4’ Pilot | Fine Point Films

A short pilot exploring the stories and beliefs of older,working class Northern Irish men.