RTÉ plans ‘meaty’ factual shows for key Sunday slot
Channel 4’s popular ‘fixed rig’ documentaries inspire RTÉ One as it calls for ideas
Channel 4’s documentary series Educating Essex from 2011 secured permission from a school to use a “fixed rig” robotic camera system to film pupils.
Ever found yourself hooked to One Born Every Minute? The Secret Life of Four Year Olds? Undercover Boss? The Undateables? Educating Essex?
These shows, alongside the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, are cited on RTÉ’s latest call for ideas as “touchstones on other channels” that it would quite like to emulate at 9.30pm on Sundays.
The slot is typically a strong one for the channel, with Room to Improve, made for RTÉ by Coco Television, praised for delivering “consistently high audiences” at this time of the week.
“We’re now looking for other meaty lifestyle formats that have stories to tell and can engage an audience in a really visceral way,” RTÉ says in a new commissioning notice.
Ideally, it would like to make “programmes with emotion and heart where, even if the format remains the same, stories will differ vastly from one week to the next”.
Although it is “open to really strong formats that involve celebrities”, such as genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are?, its preference is for “really big stories in the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people”. And for these big stories producers need one very important thing: access.
Formats “that make good use of fixed rigs” are of particular interest, RTÉ says.
Fixed-rig filming systems are credited with transforming factual television in recent years because of the intimate access they give to documentary subjects. In fixed-rig productions, such as One Born Every Minute and the Educating Essex / Yorkshire series, dozens of robotic cameras and microphones are installed in the chosen location – often an institution such as a hospital, police station or school.
A gallery director monitoring all of the camera feeds chooses which ones to record at any time, with the footage fed back to the production staff to be meticulously logged and then edited.
Fixed-rig cameras were previously used on a smaller scale in the RTÉ observational documentary Taxi, in which production company Independent Pictures placed cameras in five taxis for a week. But to deploy them in institutions, producers need to establish a great deal of trust with both authorities and those being filmed.
RTÉ head of lifestyle Gráinne McAleer is also on the hunt for “the next generation of consumer programmes”, for broadcast in mid-week 8.30pm slots. RTÉ mentions food and finance as examples of consumer topics where it is looking for fresh treatments.
“Food is a huge issue that we haven’t dealt with substantially outside cookery programmes,” it notes, while finance is also due a return to the schedules.
“Some of us have emerged from a recession and some of us haven’t but we all need to know how to spend our money and how we can access more.”