The Importance of Development in TV

There are so many roles required in the production industry. There are directors, producers, camera crew, stylists, the lists goes on and on. However, all of these roles rely on one thing, an idea. A production comes from the development of an idea, which will have been assembled, analysed and adapted by a development team. Without this idea, there isn’t a production to make. Duncan McAlpine, our Head of Development, explains to us why Development is so important.

2018 is my thirtieth year (oh my god!) in Development and back then in the Jurassic Age it wasn’t even called as such. I remember interviewing for a job at ITV Carlton and presented my CV as a Producer/Development Producer, the boss lady conducting the interviews looked up at me quizzically and asked “Development Producer, what’s that?” I borrowed the term from the film world as it seemed appropriate, particularly as I was constantly thinking of new ideas in between production jobs, Assistant Floor or Location Managing. How things have changed. Today Development Production should in my opinion be regarded as the heartbeat of a company – without that pipeline of new ideas coming through, the company has no new product to offer and no opportunities for new business.


What still surprises me is that there isn’t a way to Develop/Produce. Different television companies have different ways of going about the task. The scatter-gun approach of churning out ten ideas a day, the ‘here’s a good title, no idea what the idea is’ strategy, the ‘let’s take one word from each of these old Chinese takeaway containers and see what we get’ action plan, the ‘glossy ring-bound brochure that takes weeks to put together’ policy, the ‘let’s go through the newspapers this morning and look for stories even though by the time it’s been reported today, someone has probably been working on it for months anyway and we’re wasting our time’ scheme. Seen them all, done them all.

Having worked at many companies over the years, I have often been disappointed to see the attitude towards Development being a ‘holding pattern’ job until something better comes along. Production staff finish a series and are put on temporary Development until the next production starts. I think that attitude is thankfully dying out but back in the day, I have worked with or managed many a reluctant PD who dreams of the next away trip and his or her per diems rather than knuckling down to fashioning a punchy, passionate, persuasive treatment to send out by close of play today.
Not everyone is cut out to be a Development Producer. The ability to transfer an amoeba of an idea onto that blank piece of paper quickly and coherently requires a lot of practice. It’s selling a document after all and needs that snap and pizzazz to attract the eye of the Commissioning Editor from the very first line. Basic spelling and grammar, a sense of structure and argument progression plus a lightness of touch and an ear for the current colloquialisms are absolutely key. Not to mention a flair for design in keeping with the subject matter. I still keep in mind the best advice I ever had – keep it simple stupid. That is so true. The number of times I see ‘over-writing’ where the idea is lost in labyrinthine sentences, a never-ending collection of qualifying clauses, structured with a concatenation of commas and alarming alliteration, the original idea being hopelessly obscured in knowingly exotic vocabulary, lost in the last pellicle of penumbra.
Keep it simple.
So where do the ideas come from? Talk about that next time…

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