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TV Specials Fit for Royalty


As Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle prepare to walk down the aisle, TV Real checked in with producers and distributors to get the scoop on special programming about the lovebirds and the British royal family at large.

Wedding bells are ringing, and they have a royal pitch to them. For years, the British royal family has captivated the imaginations of common folk the world over, perhaps more so than any other family of noble lineage. It’s no wonder, then, that the television industry has hopped on the royal bandwagon to generate timely specials in the run-up to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, which will take place on Saturday, May 19.

“There’s a huge affection for Harry; people love him and they loved his mother,” Ian Rumsey, the director of TV production at ITN Productions, tells TV Real.

In the U.K., ITV commissioned a number of one-offs and documentary series to mark the event. The hour-long Prince Harry’s Story: ***Image***Four Royal Weddings…, distributed globally by all3media international, looks at Prince Harry’s life through key turning points—four royal weddings and the tragic and untimely death of his mother. “Currently, Prince Harry’s Story: Four Royal Weddings… is the biggest selling royal show (gross per hour) we have on our books,” notes Maartje Horchner, all3media international’s executive VP of content.

Another ITV pickup from all3media international’s distribution catalog is the two-part documentary Royal Wives of Windsor. The docuseries explores the lives of some of the women who married into the House of Windsor over the last century. It looks at how these women, including Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson, Camilla Parker Bowles and the Duchess of Cambridge, have transformed the royal family.

“People simply cannot get enough details about [the British royal family’s] lives, the castles, the pomp, the traditions,” says Natalka Znak, the founder and president of Znak & Co, which produced the special Meghan Markle: An American Princess with Spun Gold TV. FOX in the U.S. aired the two-hour program about the bride-to-be’s life and potential legacy earlier this month.

Other U.S. networks are also getting in on the action. Tonight, NBC will broadcast ITN Productions’ Inside the Royal Wedding: Harry and Meghan. Hosted by Today anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, the special offers viewers an exclusive glimpse into the couple’s romance. Close friends share the story of how they fell in love, while experts involved in planning the wedding and previous nuptials explain what it takes to stage an event on this scale.

The excitement surrounding this particular wedding is twofold. Not only will there be a beloved British royal standing at the altar of St. George’s Chapel, but the world’s former most eligible bachelor will be joined by an American actress, and divorcee, no less.

“Hollywood meets royals; it’s always been a winning combination,” says Mem Bakar, the senior sales manager of TCB Media Rights, which distributes several titles about the royal family, including Elizabeth and The Private Lives of the Monarchs. Prince Harry and his fiancée “both have loyal fans around the world and have made headlines prior to their engagement announcement. They paint the picture of modern Britain, and the fact that Meghan Markle is quite well ***Image***known due to her hit U.S. series [Suits] allows U.S. viewers to have more of a vested interest in the upcoming wedding.”

TCB Media Rights also represents Modern Royals. “We not only touch on the royal wedding but also explore how Prince William and Prince Harry, along with Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, have modernized the British royal family,” Bakar explains. She notes that one-offs like Modern Royals “do really well as they are easier to schedule,” though the company has also seen success with multipart titles about the famous family.

ITN Productions’ Rumsey agrees that “Meghan brings something very different” to the table. “She’s American, divorced, of mixed heritage. The combination of Hollywood glamor and everyone’s favorite royal is irresistible…. It beats anything you’d see on TV. It’s the world’s longest-running soap opera. And then Meghan comes along and it’s like a breath of fresh air, a brand-new character.”

“For Americans, up until now, the monarchy—although fascinating—was a world away,” says Znak & Co’s Znak. “This marriage allows Americans to feel part of and share in the royal wedding experience in a way they never have before.”

And producers are honing in on the fact that Markle is an American. Alongside Znak & Co and Spun Gold TV’s Meghan Markle: An American Princess, there are specials such as Million Dollar American Princesses: Meghan Markle, which aired this month on Smithsonian Channel in the U.S. and Canada.

Daniela Neumann, the managing director of Spun Gold TV, notes that Markle is “unlike any other woman to have married into the royal family in the past, and audiences are keen to see how she will be a breath of fresh air to modernize this British institution.”

When Markle walks down the aisle to become a princess, ITN Productions’ Rumsey says, “We anticipate less of the traditional and a few very modern twists; there’s a sense that they will do some things very differently.”

That, no doubt, is the inspiration behind Harry and Meghan: Royal Rebels, which A+E Networks commissioned from Emporium Productions for Lifetime in the U.S. Airing earlier this week, the program counted down the most surprising rules of British royal weddings, revealing the traditions Prince Harry and Markle are updating and the ones they are disregarding altogether.

It’s not only the British and Americans who crave royal-themed shows. As ITN Productions’ Rumsey says, “The whole world will be watching.” TCB’s Bakar notes that the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Poland, the Nordics, Germany, France and Asia have shown some of the largest appetites for TV programming related to the wedding.

But what is the key to making programs about the British royal family that will appeal to viewers across the globe?

TCB’s Bakar explains that “They need to be topical and relevant, but with a longer shelf life, as broadcasters would like to air reruns and they can lead to possible second-window sales.” She believes that demand for programming about the royals will not “fall off a cliff post-wedding.”

“Making documentaries with and about the royal family involves the same challenges as making any documentary in that you have to earn the trust of your subjects and tell a story that is authentic and revealing to appeal to a mainstream audience worldwide,” says Oxford Films’ chief executive and creative director, Nicolas Kent. “To mark the forthcoming wedding, we’ve made Invitation to a Royal Wedding for ITV.” Distributed by Drive, the title “uses the anticipation around this royal wedding to look into the secrets of earlier royal weddings such as that of Prince William and Kate Middleton.”

“We are always thinking of more royal programming ideas, whether related to an event or more generally,” says Spun Gold’s Neumann. And fans of the royals will undoubtedly be looking for more to watch after these latest lovebirds say, “I do.”



About Sara Alessi

Sara Alessi is the associate editor of World Screen. She can be reached at salessi@worldscreen.com.

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