Mark Linsey, BBC Studios’ chief creative officer, chats with TV Drama about the latest developments in the company’s scripted business.
When BBC Studios merged with BBC Worldwide in April of last year, Mark Linsey was tapped as the chief creative officer of the combined operation. His remit includes managing the British content giant’s portfolio of production relationships, content partnerships and overseeing its IP strategy. In the drama space, BBC Studios continues to be a prolific producer and exporter, boasting a diverse slate from story-of-the-week procedurals to big-budget period sagas and everything in between.
TV DRAMA: What are some of the new projects you’re working on?
LINSEY: We have quite a range. That’s the most exciting thing about my job: the range from our portfolio producers and their creativity. We have Trigonometry, a love story about three people. It’s going to air on BBC Two. It’s a really authentic relationship piece. We have Sanditon, the completion of the incomplete novel by Jane Austen. It’s produced by Red Planet Pictures for ITV and Masterpiece. We also have Traces, UKTV’s first original scripted drama [for Alibi]. It’s a crime drama that RED Production Company is making. One of the things we’re most excited about is The Mallorca Files, a ten-part drama that will launch on BBC One. That’s been pieced together around different territories. Life is written by Mike Bartlett and produced by Drama Republic. It brings together four separate strands into a larger story.
TV DRAMA: Can you take me through some of the key models you are using to pull together the financing on new drama projects?
LINSEY: There is a sea of opportunity in drama, but you need to be smart about the right opportunity for the producer as well as the platform or the broadcaster. That’s what we try to do according to our expertise and the different deal-making. No two deals are the same anymore. They’re all different. The Mallorca Files is a co-production between ZDF, France TV and BritBox that we’ve put together with the BBC. Good Omens, made by BBC Studios, is a co-pro with Amazon. Brexit: The Uncivil War we made with Channel 4, and HBO U.S. came on board. And we will fund project development and look to sell the global rights to a global player, such as Dracula, which we sold to Netflix, and His Dark Materials, sold to HBO.
We get excited by the creatives and we try to work out ways of how to get that creativity into production. We’re really excited about how we structured a co-pro deal with Steve McQueen on his drama Small Axe, which is commissioned by BBC in the U.K., and we sold the rights to Amazon U.S. It’s really starting with the creativity and working out what other audiences would be interested in this and where is the synergy and how we can piece together a deal to get it into production.
TV DRAMA: Is it becoming harder to access top talent, given how much drama is in production in the U.K.?
LINSEY: Yes, top writers are hugely in demand. We’re building up very important relationships with a lot of emerging writers. We’re trying to develop those relationships at an earlier stage. And trying to invest in their creativity and give them backing and support.
TV DRAMA: We’ve talked about new projects, but I imagine returning dramas are also critical to your business. How are you working with your producers to keep delivering successful seasons?
LINSEY: The partners we have work hard at that. On Call the Midwife, it’s incredible how they keep the storylines fresh and new. Likewise with The Durrells. Doctor Who is another shining example. Arguably, you can say each episode is a reinvention. Viewers have a real appetite for those soft-in-tone, heartwarming pieces. Buyers want them because they can return in the schedule year after year and they can build a schedule around these returners. Luther has worked extremely well as a returning series. Silent Witness is on its 23rd series. Yes, they are crime-based, which helps. But they’ve managed to keep them fresh and new. [Same with] Death in Paradise, Father Brown. There’s real expertise in that and it’s something we shouldn’t get complacent about.
TV DRAMA: What trends are you seeing in drama today?
LINSEY: I think buyers expect any script, any treatment, to be good, to be polished. They want to be surprised. There’s still a demand for strong, iconic characters. You want characters you can connect with, but at the same time, an element of surprise in those iconic characters. And there’s a trend towards strong female-led dramas and diverse casting. We’re still finding that true crime is going strong. People are asking for noisier genre, but at the same time, there’s room for looking at typical family relationships and the challenges of parenting. Particularly on SVOD, they are looking for universal themes. It’s about how we, as content providers, can establish the universality of those themes and make them accessible for a broad audience.