In development, our ideas are our currency. We have spoken in previous blogs about where these ideas come from, but what happens when your great idea has already been taken and has been commissioned? It can seem like the end of the road for your idea, but is it really?
We turned to Duncan McAlpine (Head of Development) to ask for his advice on this, and below is what he had to say.
Thursday has always been my least favourite day of the week. In earlier school years it was double maths in the afternoon and in O Level years it was double physics. In the former, a blackboard full of equations invariably equalled nought in the bottom right hand corner and in the latter, you pushed things and they went. No big deal. Thursday is also the day that Broadcast comes out and you read about an idea that you had ages ago and it’s now been commissioned by the channel you pitched it to way back then and they weren’t interested. It partly goes to show that there is no such thing as an original idea in programme development and everything is a derivation of something else.
If it so happens that you have a great idea and you find that it has already been ‘done’, do not despair. This is a good thing, annoying as it may seem at the time. It forces you to re-examine your idea and see if there is a fresh angle and a new approach. Years ago I had an idea for a classic car show that focused on the various car clubs that meet every weekend somewhere in the UK and it’s a great way of meeting characters who know everything about, say, MGs or Jaguars, Mark One VW Golfs or the little-seen-on-the-road these days Messerschmitt KR 175 bubble car. Then Channel 4 did For the Love of Cars which focused on classic car clubs and it was all good stuff. There is no sign of a recommission now after a couple of years since the last series aired in 2014/15 but how much time needs to elapse before channels would look at that sort of show again?
Back in the mists of time when I first started in Development in 1990, the accepted rule was that at least five years had to go by before broadcasters would look at a subject area again. Nowadays that time elapse seems much shorter which can only be a good thing. And an added joy is that there are so many more broadcasting outlets than there used to be so your idea may be similar to something that has gone before, even quite recently, but there may well be a channel that doesn’t have its own version of Four in a Bed or Come Dine With Me, Watchdog or Can’t Pay We’ll Take it Away or where one channel follows the everyday life in an animal park like Longleat, perhaps another channel wants its own version and would like an something similar located at Whipsnade, Howletts or Woburn. It is always worth trying different people at the same broadcaster too as different departments have a different skew – one could be more modern documentary on the scale whereas another is more factual entertainment and another is more reality and another is more history-biased.
Television also goes in cycles so it could be that your idea is not quite right at this time. Wait for when interior design or gardening on a budget shows are back in fashion. Park it in the bottom drawer, ready to pull out at the last minute when it’s five to 3 with the commissioning editor – funny how sometimes something strikes a chord with the Comm Ed when you least expect it.