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Northern Ireland indies secure five new BBC network co-commissions through Hot House scheme

Date Posted: November 15, 2023

The BBC has commissioned five new unscripted programmes as part of a Hot House initiative, with support from Northern Ireland Screen. The programmes, which are co-commissioned for BBC Factual and BBC Northern Ireland, will be broadcast to audiences in Northern Ireland and across the UK on BBC network and BBC NI television.

The commissions were announced by Charlotte Moore, Chief Content Officer, BBC, during her Dan Gilbert Lecture at the Belfast Media Festival. The commissions include a new 15-part series for BBC Daytime featuring MasterChef’s Anna Haugh, a new six-part series on competing to become an art dealer, single documentaries exploring motorcycle racing and First Holy Communions and a new entertainment ‘reality game show’ pilot.

After a competitive process earlier this year, five Northern Ireland-based independent production companies were chosen by BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Factual to take part in the ‘Hot House’ development initiative. The scheme, which builds on the successful partnership between the BBC and Northern Ireland Screen, saw BBC network and BBC NI commissioning teams provide local indies with the advice, support and tools to help them compete for BBC network factual commissions and BBC NI/ BBC network co-commissions.

The ambition is to grow network production capacity in Northern Ireland and help locally-based indies to secure network commissions – with all of the benefits this would provide, including for the creative economy in Northern Ireland. The project also supports the BBC’s Across The UK strategy commitments to move content away from London to allow the BBC to better reflect, represent and serve all audiences.

The five successful indies were Below The Radar, DoubleBand Films, Stellify Media, Alleycats Films  and Walk On Air Films.

Each of these independent production companies were then given £50,000 development funding from the BBC. They were then able to apply for match-funding from Northern Ireland Screen. They were then invited to present their network television proposals at the end of their five month development period with the aim of winning a network television commission. Any company that didn’t secure a network co-commission was guaranteed a commission for one of their development proposals, to be broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland television, with involvement from a network television commissioner.

The five BBC Factual/ BBC Northern Ireland co-commissions are:

Anna Haugh – No Place Like Home (working title)

This 15-part series from Below The Radar for BBC Daytime and BBC NI follows MasterChef: The Professionals, judge and chef Anna Haugh as she reconnects with her place of birth, travelling around Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with well-known celebrities to sample the country’s varied food and flavours. In each episode, Anna will set off from her holiday cottage in Northern Ireland to visit towns and cities across the island and explore the communities, culture and cuisine.

The Art Game

 Co-commissioned for BBC Arts and BBC NI, this six-part series exploring the world of art dealership, is from Stellify Media. In each hour-long episode, the contestants will be assigned a new task under the watchful eye of a celebrity presenter and art experts. They will then have to grow their networks and successfully buy and sell pieces of art in their bid to win The Arts Game.

Ride or Die

This hour-long specialist factual film by DoubleBand Films has been co- commissioned by BBC Factual and BBC NI. It will chart the life and death fortunes of a cast of renegade racers and their die hard entourage as they prepare to take part in the 2024 road racing season. The film will follow the racers and their families in the months leading up to the start of the season to understand how they prepare themselves mentally and spiritually in their bid to defy death and feel truly alive at dangerous speeds of up to 200mph.

Communion Stories

Every year around 60,000 children across the island of Ireland take their First Holy Communion. The ceremony, in which they receive the eucharist for the first time and are welcomed into the church, is free but as the parties, outfits and even the hair get bigger every year, families are put under more and more financial pressure. This new hour-long BBC specialist factual and BBC NI co-commission from Walk On Air Films goes behind the glitz and glamour of the occasion to meet the families preparing for their child’s big day. And it meets the priests, teachers, dressmakers and others involved in the event to explore just how much of the event is about religion – and how much of it is about the party and dresses.

Chosen Ten

This BBC NI and BBC network entertainment pilot from Stellify Media is pitched as a ‘cutthroat’ reality gameshow in which ‘only those with the right amount of intelligence, trust and passion will succeed’. Fifteen contestants must spend 10 days together using their wit and guile to decide which contestant will answer a different question each day on a given topic. Those chosen become ‘the Candidates’ to and the remaining contestants must vote for to the best person to answer the question to add to the prize fund. But with bluffers in the mix and incorrect answers bringing forth the ‘money drain’ there are high-stakes and  jeopardy right to the end.

 Also commissioned through the scheme for BBC Northern Ireland are Nazis, U-boats And Spies from Alleycats Film and Sheep Dog Showdown from Stellify Media. The hour-long factual Nazis, U-boats And Spies documentary for BBC NI and BBC iPlayer dives into the story of the perilous Battle of  Atlantic during World War Two, when Allied Forces battled the Nazi U-boats who preyed upon the Allied convoys of ships carrying vital food and fuel supplies from North America to the UK. Commissioned to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the end of WWII, the film will explore the bravery and deceit on both sides, remember the forgotten heroes whose actions made all the difference and tell of Londonderry’s vital role in the battle.

The three-part series Sheep Dog Showdown looks at one of the biggest events in the farming calendar – the World Sheep Dog Trials. Earlier this year around 50,000 people descended upon Dromore, Co Down, in Northern Ireland for the 120-yeard-old event. The series will follow the fortunes of competitors as they go head-to-head over four gruelling days of competition with 240 competitors being whittled down to just one world champion by the closing night.

A new BBC Arts co-commission examining the life of Belfast-born author of the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, by Walk On Air films has also been moved forward to development stage.

Eddie Doyle, Head of Content Commissioning BBC Northern Ireland says: “The Hothouse scheme has proved to be a success all round. Not only have Northern Ireland indies benefited from the  expertise guidance of our network and local commissioning teams in developing their ideas, but the BBC now has a great range of new content to bring to audiences across the UK. I hope this scheme highlights the strength of programme-making talent we have here in the creative sector in Northern Ireland and big thanks to Northern Ireland Screen and our network commissioning colleagues for sharing our ambition and helping to make it happen.”

Kate Phillips, Director of Unscripted, BBC, says: “It has been really exciting to collaborate with BBC Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen on this brilliant new initiative and to have this opportunity to showcase some of the outstanding talent in Northern Ireland. Huge congratulations to the successful companies. We also continue to work with a large variety of companies across Northern Ireland and across our genres.”

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen says: “The Hot House initiative celebrates the power of storytelling, and the unique talents of our local independent production companies. This collaboration with BBC is not just about creating exceptional content; it’s about nurturing our creative economy and showcasing Northern Ireland’s diverse stories to UK wide audiences. We congratulate the five successful companies and look forward to seeing them fill our screens with the exhilarating, the sacred, the savoury, the artistic, and the mind-bending.”

The Hot House development initiative was designed to be an additional way of generating co-commissioned projects with BBC network and BBC NI will continue to support other network projects pitched by independent production companies outside of the scheme.

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