K7 Media

K7 Media

Genre Hybrids and Emotional Escapism: Hot Picks from the London Screenings

We’re fresh from a hectic but very enjoyable week marching around trendy Soho for the 2023 London Screenings. It was staggering to see the rapid expansion of the event from last year, with the numbers of attending buyers and exhibiting distributors seeming to grow at a near exponential rate.

Amidst the considerable over-saturation in drama, and an appetite from viewers for ‘statement’ shows that do something big or new, most distributors’ scripted slates were refreshingly varied. Gone are the days of showcase events where it felt like four out of five shows were interchangeable male-fronted detective series. Where crime did appear, there was usually a twist – as in Viaplay’s supernatural-flavoured Veronika, or eOne’s crime/relationship mash-up Love Rat. Indeed, inventive genre hybrids were everywhere to be seen.

Playing it a bit safer, easy-watching procedurals and other feelgood series also remained well-represented. As did heartfelt family/relationship dramas, with Keshet’s intimate A Body That Works – about the bond between an infertile couple and the surrogate mother carrying their future child – being a particular highlight.

In terms of ‘newer’ trends – one no doubt inspired by the huge success of high end sports docs in the past couple of years – was the prevalence of scripted shows set in the sporting world. Most notable was ITV Studios’ Aidan Turner-starring Fifteen-Love, which follows the twisted relationship between a high level tennis coach and former hot prospect player.

Finally, we’ve had ‘true crime’ and ‘true scandal’, but what about ‘true subculture’? There was a handful of promising looking series delving into fascinating scenes and subcultures from around the world – music, youth culture, crypto currency, etc.  From StudioCanal for example, the adrenaline-pumping Spinners is backdropped by the dangerous underground South African motorsport of  ‘Spinning’ – definitely not to be confused with the class down at your local gym!

Scared of the Dark (ITV Studios)

It was all about emotional escapism as far as formats were concerned; entertainment television once again acting as a tonic in uncertain times. Tugging on the heartstrings were formats like The Piano (Fremantle), Thanks a Million (Sony) and Sing Again (Warners), which have already found local success thanks to their ability to contrast authentic tear-jerking moments with soaring highs in ways the viewer doesn’t often experience in other entertainment shows.

On the lighter side, commissioners are currently crying out for comedic, feel-good formats and thankfully there was plenty to choose from; Scared of the Dark (ITV Studios), Boomerisima (Banijay) and The Beatbox (Fremantle) all put smiles on the faces of even the most jaded channel buyers.

But the most ‘zeitgeist-y’ format was Studio Lambert’s upcoming series Rise and Fall (All3Media), launching soon on Channel 4, which explores power dynamics in society through the prism of reality television. Formidable stuff!

While both formats and dramas were noticeably supersized this year – both in the amount of programming and the extravagance of the events – the factual side of the market took a “less is more” approach throughout the screenings, with distributors highlighting the larger true crime and natural history titles for the masses, and saving the wealth of titles for specific buyers.

The brand new announcements mostly consisted of the mainstay tentpole true crime documentaries including Waco: Untold Stories (ITV Studios) and Lara (w/t) (Banijay Rights) alongside natural history spectacles such as The Secret Life of Seals (TVF International).  But as the push towards bigger, premium docs with big names attached continues – comments we heard both at London and at Berlinale – it was interesting to see the number of acquisitions of overlooked older and specialist factual titles.  Examples include BossaNova’s  Ancient Egypt by Train as its key title, TVF International showcasing 2020 Irish fixed-rig observational documentary Big Year in Big School as the closing title of its presentation, and Keshet International picking up one of our Factual Quicklist highlights Undercover: Sexual Harassment – The Truth.

David Ciaramella, Richard O'Meara, John Brown