Unscripted TV Moving Closer to Drama, Says BBC Guru

Don't Tell the Bride - H 2012

Veteran BBC producer Frank Ash thinks how real people react to fantasy disaster situations will be the next big thing in unscripted TV.

ABU DHABI – Veteran BBC producer Frank Ash told a gathering in Abu Dhabi Film Festival that filming how real people react to fantasy disaster situations will be the next big thing in unscripted.

Ash, who mentors TV producers in-house at the BBC Academy, told his Abu Dhabi Masterclass audience that unscripted – or factual as it is called in the U.K. – has a long history of moving ever closer to drama.

He pointed out that shows such as Jersey Shore and its Brit equivalent The Only Way Is Essex seem to have more fiction than reality and showrunners improvise situations for real-life cast members to act out.

Ash said that unscripted TV producers have borrowed drama techniques because they need the most compelling and engaging ways to put across their stories.

Audiences are just as media-savvy as show creators, Ash said noting that they will put up with drama techniques being used, providing show creators do not lie to them.

This is what happened in 2007 when BBC documentary A Year With the Queen contrived to show Queen Elizabeth exiting a photo session “in a huff." In fact, the footage was of her walking in.

BBC1 controller Peter Fincham lost his job amid the resulting media storm.

As to where unscripted is going next, Ash predicted that injecting people into imaginary disaster situations will be the next big thing.

Think unscripted Towering Inferno or Poseidon Adventure. Discovery Channel’s series The Colony -- a cross between a reality TV contestant show and a documentary – followed a handful of survivors navigating an American landscape devastated by plague.

The BBC executive also called time on “mockumentaries” such as The Office, saying they had become outmoded.

NBC’s The Office is currently in its ninth and final season. Characters found for unscripted TV shows are often far more outlandish than anything a scriptwriter could invent, he said.

Ash told filmmakers that one of the most important things any unscripted producer should ask is how to subvert a genre.

“As a producer you have to ask, what can we beg, borrow or steal from the genre world? It’s much more hybrid these days,” he said.

For example, Don’t Tell the Bride – a BBC unscripted format which is in its fifth U.K. season and sold to OWN in the US – subverts the romantic comedy genre, Ash revealed.

In the show, bridegrooms are given £12,000 ($19,000) to secretly plan what they think is the perfect wedding.