Naked West’s John Comerford

Following on the success of Escape to the Country, BBC’s longest-running property show, BBC One commissioned Naked West to produce five special episodes of the star-powered Celebrity Escape to the Country. Naked West is a label within Naked, which is behind a string of successful factual and entertainment programs for the U.K., U.S. and elsewhere, including The Apprentice (BBC One), Grand Designs (Channel 4) and Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne (Hulu and BBC Three). John Comerford, head of Naked West, talks to TV Formats about the biggest factors impacting the entertainment production sector today.

***Image***TV FORMATS: What’s working best in the entertainment landscape these days?
COMERFORD: The entertainment genre is so broad now, and it seems that audiences and broadcasters are definitely up for trying new things. The streamers are investing more in entertainment; unscripted is quicker to turn around, and at a time when budgets are stretched, it’s easier to make the money work. In daytime, entertainment in its widest sense is performing strongly. The potential audience for the daytime slots these days is considerable and reflects an incredibly broad demographic. Daytime programs such as Escape to the Country are thriving in their afternoon slots, often overtaking the viewing figures and share of their prime-time counterparts. Most recently, the launch of the rebooted Deal or No Deal smashed the daytime slot with a massive 2.4 million, and a repeat of The Repair Shop entertained 1.8 million. Maybe it’s time for commissioners to ask themselves if this trend is here to stay and whether more should be invested in daytime scheduling.

TV FORMATS: Tell me about the subtleties of producing for daytime versus peak when it comes to entertainment.
COMERFORD: We don’t actually differentiate; it’s about having the same eye on real quality whether the show sits in daytime or peak. These shows have to work convincingly in either. For example, our Great Railway Journeys series can appear anywhere in the schedules—in daytime, peak and recently playing on Saturday evenings. Our daytime shows are commissioned in volume, and that’s where the efficiencies lie, but they are made with real care and huge attention to detail, and that’s the secret to their enduring appeal. When you’re lucky enough to create a brand that viewers enjoy and are loyal to, it’s about ensuring that it performs at volume wherever it plays. For example, some of our Celebrity Escape to the Country episodes, a daytime commission, are scheduled to be shown in an evening slot, which is exciting.

TV FORMATS: How did you approach the new celebrity spin-off of Escape to the Country?
COMERFORD: Escape to the Country first appeared in 2002 and is the BBC’s longest-running property show. There’s a reason for the series’ longevity, so in our new spin-off, we aimed to deliver the quality and rural aspiration that viewers associate with and love about the brand. While Celebrity Escape to the Country needed to be recognizable, we’ve introduced more than a touch of entertainment stardust alongside the excitement of offering viewers an insight into the personal lives of our rural house-hunting celebrities. In a usual episode of Escape, viewers don’t know their contributors initially; that’s not the case with our celebrities, so we were given a little more creative freedom to add some new playful elements reflecting the characters and expertise of our famous house-hunters.

TV FORMATS: What’s guiding the creative ethos at Naked West at present?
COMERFORD: At Naked West, our forte is creating and delivering respected brands that really stand the test of time. We are lucky to have a catalog of fantastic returning shows like Grand Designs, Escape to the Country and Great Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo that are loved by audiences for their quality thanks to the skill and talent of the teams behind them. Equally, the focus is very much on the next chapter too, and we are always creating and pitching new ideas and have some exciting new projects we are currently shooting proof of concepts on.

In Fremantle, we’re fortunate to have the support of a company with real scale behind us and on the ground . We look to create a happy and friendly place to work, and testament to that is the fact that so many members of our freelance production teams come back to work with us time and time again. We really value the teams and the fantastic showrunners we have at Naked West, and I’m proud of the sense of community we have been able to generate here. That in turn has allowed our teams to work at their creative best. We also work closely with the development team in London, tapping into the creativity of the greater Naked organization.

TV FORMATS: What, for Naked West, are the biggest factors impacting the entertainment production sector?
COMERFORD: Budgets and the current hiatus in commissioning. I am all too aware that much of our massively respected production talent pool is not working at the moment, and the worry is that there will be a drain of exceptional talent from the industry if the current commissioning crisis continues much longer. At a time of high inflation in our industry, the pressure on budgets is making it challenging to maintain the ambition and standards we want reflected in our shows. And it’s not just the squeeze on program budgets that affects our work. The general economic crisis plays its part too, impacting programs such as Grand Designs where rising interest rates, supply issues and lack of contractor availability result in delays in building projects finishing in time and, in turn, our ability to deliver completed programs to schedule. All we can do is continue to focus our attention on the quality of our cherished heritage brands and work to renew our slate with new shows, which in turn will bring more work to the industry.