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What the world’s producers, platforms and channels are developing.

Love conquers all for Wall to Wall’s The Nevermets

Leanne Klein, MD of Wall to Wall, discusses the issues facing UK production companies like hers as much-delayed The Nevermets, a coproduction with GroupM Motion Entertainment, finally debuted on Channel 4 last week.

Leanne Klein

The Nevermets premiered on May 24, tell us about the origins of that show.
The first problem was Covid because it’s a series that involves people travelling all over the world. Secondly it’s a series for Channel 4 that was delivered quite a long time ago but as has been widely reported C4 have been slowing down the release of their new content over the last year or so. I’m excited to say it is finally out.

Most of our formats, however entertaining and outlandish and constructed they are, start in the real world. We’d read a few articles about Tinder, the dating app, introducing a new function called Global Mode. Lots of people, particularly Gen-Z, were interested in finding ‘the one’, even if they were literally on the other side of the world. That was also part of a general trend of people to have really genuine long-term, long distance relationships. Some of those relationships were going on for years, and yet they’d never met in real life. We thought that was a fascinating premise for a show which, although probably falls into the bucket of dating show formats, it’s a relationship show more than a dating show.

So, the premise is simple. The format is simple. It’s got a great title. We start filming with these couples, some of whom have been together for years without meeting, and follow them through to the first time they meet physically. It’s a really strong premise because it’s got a really big question at its heart and as a viewer you’re waiting to see if this is going to be wonderful or a car crash.

We’ve made Long Lost Family for ITV for many years where we film reunions and we’ve worked out good ways of filming those so it’s both unintrusive, but you feel like you’re absolutely there. We applied that same model to this. You feel very powerful moments and there’s lots of jeopardy before, and then you see what happens after.

Much-delayed The Nevermets finally aired on Channel 4 last week

How frustrating was it to have a show that C4 were clearly keen on, but it requires putting people on planes at a time you couldn’t do that?
We took it to C4 because that felt like a really obvious place for it. I think it’s very broad and could have worked anywhere but C4 jumped on it really quickly and put it into funded development.

In the long tail of Covid when it was all about travel and passports and visas we were looking at whether we should bring them all to a hotel in the Caribbean. In the end we decided the strength of this show is taking people who, for instance, have fallen in love with someone in India but they’ve never been to India and they’ve got no interest in per se going to India they just want to go and meet the person they love. That just seemed more interesting and more authentic.

Describe the state of the industry at the moment? Obviously you are a well-established company and very experienced. But it’s tough out there, right?
It is without doubt the most challenging time I’ve known in the industry, and I’ve been in the industry a really long time. I run this label and also Twenty Twenty and we are really fortunate to be insulated from a lot of the multiple issues and multiple problems indies are facing at the moment because we have a lot of returning series which are still enduringly successful. We’ve got this bedrock which feels quite secure. We also play in a lot of sandpits, everything from big reality through to serious factual docs, limited docs, scripted series like Waterloo Road… So we’re really lucky.

That doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating because it is. Getting new formats away, any sort of new content away, is really challenging in lots of ways. There is definitely much less commissioning happening than there was two years ago, that’s across the board, not just at the UK broadcasters, but also at the streamers and at the US cable networks. Getting things funded is really hard, even when they’re greenlit, because the broadcasters, the streamers and everyone are just wanting to invest less in individual programmes. We find ourselves in difficult situations where we have things greenlit but part funded and can’t actually raise the rest of the finance. Probably lots of my peers will say the same thing, but I seem to spend more of my time trying to find funding than I do writing the next amazing idea, which is frustrating if you are creative, frankly.

It’s tougher for producers on so many levels and tougher for the businesses that we run as well, because those businesses are struggling and built on assumptions that you can’t now rely upon. Going back to C4, I’ve said this to Ian Katz personally, it’s not just that they’re not commissioning, it’s also that they’re not putting shows out as quickly as they were intended or commissioned for. The Nevermets has the potential to be a really great returning brand for C4 but it sat on the shelf for nearly a year and we can’t answer that question until it goes out. I think a lot of producers have got shows that they’re used to running at a certain cadence and they know they go back and shoot that every two years, when you’re delivering that to a channel and it’s then being held back that’s just as difficult for businesses as not getting new commissions – not knowing when it’s going out or if it will be recommissioned.

Do you think channels could do it a different way, or is it just inevitable that they’ve got to stagger what they’ve got?
I do know the economics and the model it’s built on. I can’t answer that question. The point is the pain is being felt not only in no new commissions, or fewer commissions, it’s also the slowness to act and fund. It’s not just C4, it’s happening at the BBC, it’s happening everywhere – particularly in scripted, I would say that’s very challenged at the moment.

Can true love really exist in an entirely online environment?

Do you see light at the end of the tunnel? Will it go back to how it was, or is this permanent change?
I think it is permanent change. I think there will be more content bought next year than has been bought this year, and there’s probably going to be a little bit more bought this year than last year. It will pick up, but the sorts of things that get bought are going to be different. Looking at the way the BBC, C4 and ITV are commissioning now they’re commissioning for streaming and that means they’re commissioning different types of things.

Fewer, bigger, better isn’t just an excuse for commissioning less, it’s also what viewers want to watch, particularly on streaming platforms. People don’t complain about seeing repeats any more. It doesn’t feel that awful for there to be a repeat on BBC Two on a Wednesday night primetime, because you can just stream the drama that was on Sunday. We’re all getting our content in different ways and the amount of content that’s available is, while still rich and varied, there isn’t that same need to commission to fill every slot. It’s more important to commission the things that are going to stand out and be noisy. In that environment I think that’s really hard for a lot of companies that make midsize two- or three-parters and formats.

What’s your three-year plan?
It’s not too different to what it’s always been, which is to be supplying the loved shows that the audience want to watch and are made to the highest creative standard and brilliant storytelling. And I think that’s what people want.

For all the pain in the industry at the moment, there’ve been some incredible high points this year of programme that have surprised us all. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, not worrying about how I’m going to get the last 20% of funding for something. I think we’ll still be making the shows that people love and want to watch and hopefully get noticed and win awards. And that’s what we’ve always done, and that’s what we’ll keep doing as broadly as possible for as many customers as possible.

You’ve got to be able to pivot anywhere and everywhere and have relationships everywhere because there will be changes in where the commissioning money is and where the power is. That’s going to keep changing.