Two Brothers Pictures’ Chris Aird

Chris Aird, the head of drama at Two Brothers Pictures, talks to TV Drama about the all3media-owned venture’s development process, creating and nurturing compelling concepts and championing new talent.

Founded by Harry and Jack Williams in 2014, Two Brothers Pictures has solidified its status as one of the U.K.’s premier providers of scripted content with a portfolio of critically acclaimed gems and commercial hits, from Fleabag and Back to Life to Liar, Cheat, Baptiste and more.

TV DRAMA: Tell us about your development team and how it works to serve the needs of this very hungry drama landscape.
AIRD: We punch above our weight in terms of the number of staff versus the number of commissions we make! Most of that has to do with having these two great showrunners [Harry and Jack Williams] in the middle of the company. I think we have a great cross section of tastes. At one end, there’s our passion for really exciting, character-led thrillers, of the kind Jack and Harry write, so Liar, The Missing, The Widow, Baptiste, and shows like Cheat by Gaby Hull that fit that mold. And at the other end is this encouragement of younger, often female writers, in comedy and drama—[talents like] Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Daisy Haggard, as well as other writers like Kelly Jones and Catherine Moulton—who are creating ideas that are very current and feel fresh and zeitgeisty.

TV DRAMA: Is it getting harder to access those voices, given the steep competition for talent?
AIRD: Finding talent has always been a challenge. You just have to stick at it. If you love drama and theater and novels and TV and film, as long as you keep watching and going to see and reading enough, then you will find people. What I love about working here is we really do champion newer talent. It’s easy to forget that four years ago, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was a brand-new writer. Daisy Haggard had never written anything for the screen before Back to Life. Cheat was Gaby Hull’s first credit. I have high hopes for some of the other newer writers we’re championing right now. I hope that’s partly because we have good taste and a good reputation! On a more business level, there’s something about Jack and Harry’s presence in the heart of the company that maybe allows commissioners to take risks on newer voices because they know Jack and Harry are there to help guide them.

TV DRAMA: What’s the approach to financing these shows?
AIRD: It’s our job to match up great ideas and writers with a broadcaster. I hate the scattergun approach to development. One has to be really targeted. Having been a commissioner myself, it’s about people bringing material that is actually going to fit on whatever platform or channel you’re working for. That first relationship is key. You’re taking a [commissioning budget] from whoever that may be—BBC One, ITV, Channel 4, etc.—and then there’s the international component, which is so, so important. We have direct relationships with a lot of the U.S. platforms and broadcasters, as well as others around the world, but we have this key relationship with our parent company, all3media, that works so well for us. They are so supportive of everything we do. They will come in and presell to international broadcasters or deficit-finance. Every project is different, and the wheels turn at different speeds. What’s so wonderful about having all3media behind us is, they will always provide that support, which allows us to get on with actually making the show.

TV DRAMA: What’s more stressful—waiting for the ratings on a new-show premiere or those for a series returning for a new season?
AIRD: Putting shows on TV is the worst part of the job! [Laughs] I suppose it’s the very first  , the first time it drops. If it’s on a terrestrial network where you’re recording the overnights, that number comes in between 9:33 and 9:36 in the morning. I’ve been in both positions: where it absolutely knocks it out of the park and you’re stunned at how many people have come to it, and where you’re utterly devastated because no one came to it! Most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle. Last year, we had Cheat, The Widow, Baptiste, Fleabag and Back to Life, all in the space of four months, and it was a roller coaster. [Laughs]

TV DRAMA: So much viewing is happening on-demand; it’s fascinating that those overnights are still so important.
AIRD: It’s funny, isn’t it? We’re definitely moving away from shows living or dying on an overnight. The consolidated number has become the standard. The thing is, if the overnight is higher, then nine times out of ten, the consolidated is higher! So there’s still that immediate, oh god [how did we do]. In terms of the longer tail, there’s no doubt that shows like Fleabag or The Missing or Liar get talked about and then stay in the consciousness a bit. And in the world of video on demand and streaming, they are there to be watched. If someone says, Did you see that show?, you can go and see it. Obviously, that also has an impact financially. But I do think the overnights give you a really good indication of whether something rings a bell with the audience in an immediate way. It’s that very unknowable thing about the business—is this going to resonate with the audience or not?

TV DRAMA: How challenging have negotiations with U.K. broadcasters become over linear, catch-up and SVOD rights?
AIRD: My colleague Claire Evans [COO] does a lot of this! Yes, it’s more complex. I think if you play a straight bat and you’re a fair player, it will always work out. The complexity comes with the patchwork of financing that feels perhaps more like movie financing has in the past. You really are looking to put a U.K. first-window broadcaster together with perhaps a U.S.-based streamer together with maybe a local financier abroad and then looking at all the tax break options, incentives, to shoot in various places around the world. We’ve seen rapid inflation in the cost of making high-end television drama. You need that financing package in place, all of it, to make it happen. We’re in an environment right now where the inflation in the costs has caught up with the inflation in the budgets. The budgets went up five years ago. Perhaps there was a period when everyone felt like, Wow, we have much more money to make things! I’m not sure that’s quite the case anymore. We’re having to be much more careful again. Some time ago, before it was such a global marketplace, £1 million per hour would have been masses of money to make a show. Now £1.4 million, £1.5 million oftentimes doesn’t feel like quite enough.