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BecomingX, a company co-founded by Bear Grylls that encourages personal development, has partnered with family edutainment powerhouse Da Vinci to produce Becoming Xtraordinary, a biographical series showcasing inspirational life stories and insights into success, including from such Hollywood stars as Julia Roberts, Channing Tatum and Courteney Cox.
Interviewees also include the likes of sporting legends, such as Roger Federer; politicians; astronaut Tim Peake; explorer Ranulph Fiennes; famous figures from other fields and lesser-known people with inspiring success stories.
Grylls will front the program, introducing the “aspirational, real-life series that showcases the skills, character and resilience needed to succeed,” the partners said on Thursday.
“Becoming Xtraordinary will encourage young people to dream big and learn what it really takes to realize their potential,” the partners said. “The biographical, studio-style entertainment series will present interview-driven stories with some of the world’s most iconic people, as well as those lesser known, but with equally powerful stories to tell. From Olympic gold medalists and Oscar winners, to presidents, Nobel Peace Prize winners, scientists and adventurers — Becoming Xtraordinary promises to be a healthy dose of real-life inspiration.”
The partnership agreement covers three seasons of 10 episodes of 24 minutes, with pre-production starting this month. Each episode of the show will feature two interviews, with commentary and discussion from in-studio presenters, such as Blue Peter host Mwaka “Mwaksy” Mudenda.
“There are no shortcuts to success, but there are some secrets,” Grylls said in a statement. “We wanted to create a series where kids and families around the globe can hear first-hand from some of the world’s greatest achievers and realize that they too can achieve extraordinary things.”
The show is targeted to premiere on Da Vinci channels in spring or summer. Da Vinci’s mission is to deliver content, including factual entertainment, animation and scripted dramas “that creates a smarter, kinder world.” The firm has more than 550 distribution partners for its SVOD and free advertising-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels, kids mobile apps and other services in more than 100 countries and says it reaches more than 70 million millennial and Gen Z families. Da Vinci recently struck a U.S. deal with Sling TV and TCL.
“Our big goal for BecomingX is to help people understand what it really takes to succeed and to equip them with the confidence and skills to follow their dreams, whatever they may be. We’re sharing the real stories of the world’s most inspiring and iconic people — the gritty truth of how they got to where they are and how they overcame the challenges along the way,” Grylls told The Hollywood Reporter by email. “Becoming Xtraordinary is about helping young people learn the life lessons from those who have taken the path ahead of them and demystifying what it really takes to realize your potential.”
He added: “Our message is really simple. It’s that everyone has the potential to achieve extraordinary things. We really think the world needs to move beyond the message that ‘anyone can do anything’ and focus instead on equipping people with the real skills and attitudes to succeed. We want people to watch Becoming Xtraordinary and realize that what really matters is ambition, hard work, determination, resilience, relationships, collaboration, creativity, kindness … personal attributes that we don’t really see education systems helping people to learn. Not everyone will become an Olympic champion, Hollywood star or a CEO, and nor should we try and push these as the goals to aim for in life, but everyone can dream big, get better at what they do and help others along the way. We want to help young people to see ‘success’ as living fulfilled and happy lives and doing the things they love, whatever that may mean for them.”
Asked about the Hollywood stars featured in the series, Grylls said: “I’ve been so lucky to work with so many amazing people over the years and several of whom we have already filmed with BecomingX. We’ve got a long list of inspiring people we’re filming — Hollywood stars, presidents, Olympic gold medalists, top scientists … but also people from some of the toughest backgrounds imaginable, all of whom have worked so hard to get to where they are with passion, dedication and humility. Julia, Courteney and Chan are great examples of this. They are such incredible, genuine and caring people, and we’re proud to be able to share their stories alongside so many other inspiring people from around the world.”
Da Vinci COO Estelle Lloyd highlighted the appetite for this kind of programming. “There is a huge gap in the market for real-life, inspirational content that families can enjoy together and learn what it takes to be successful,” the executive said. “We are super excited to be joining forces with BecomingX to bring this masterclass-style entertainment series exclusively to our Da Vinci channels and streaming app.”
Luca Fiore, content director at Da Vinci, tells THR that the company will also make the full-length interviews with personalities featured on Becoming Xtraordinary available to its viewers. “We really want to focus on these amazing stories and these amazing people and the qualities that have made them who they are.”
But it’s not just about featuring the biggest and most famous names. “A big element, that we want to demonstrate, is that diversity in realizing one’s potential,” he explains. “It’s not just certain kinds of personalities or certain points of view, or about being from certain industries. Yes, there are the A-listers that everybody recognizes, but there are also going to be a lot of people that young people have never heard of.”
BecomingX co-founder and CEO Paul Gurney also emphasizes the importance of a broad range of stories and personalities. “A lot of young people still look at the big TV stars and film stars and think ‘wow, these people are amazing,’ but we want to broaden people’s view of what success actually looks like, and showcase a range of inspiring people from completely different backgrounds,” he tells THR. “Of course, it’s hugely helpful for us to have interviewed so many huge stars. They have all been an absolute pleasure to work with, and it brings extra excitement to the show, but what we really want to do is show people from across society and ‘no matter what you want to do, here are some inspiring people, and their life lessons can help you get to where you want to get to.’ So for BecomingX, it’s not just about the big names, it’s about telling the stories of the military veteran who lost three limbs and has dedicated his life to fundraising and helping others. It’s about the U.K. chief fire officer who was formerly homeless as a teenager. We want to show that everyone has the potential to achieve extraordinary things.”
BecomingX has so far filmed more than 60 interviews with the show’s production partner Chrome Productions. These interviews are also featured on the BecomingX website, “and we plan to film many, many more,” Gurney adds. But partnering with Da Vinci will help reach more young people around the world. Gurney, for example, tells THR that the series will see “young presenters help the audience really learn from the interviewees” by summarizing and discussing some of their takeaways from interviews featured in the show, while “Bear’s role is introducing this, like an inspirational father figure.”
Inspiration has been core to BecomingX’s vision from day 1. “There are a lot of negative, difficult things in the world,” explains Gurney. “Post-pandemic that has not actually changed. You just need to look at the paper to see some of the challenges that young people face. So our work is all about providing that positivity, that inspiration or energy for young people to say: ‘I kind of trust these people, I know what they’ve done, and I admire them and I want to do the same.’ And it’s about getting away from all the negativity that’s out there on social media and all the negative influences.”
Fiore echoes that. “What I love about the interviews is that you see that everybody confronts moments when they’re down and when they face adversity. But it’s the determination and a the-glass-is-half-full sort of perseverance that comes out of the stories, which is really important and needs to be highlighted,” he tells THR. “Adversity is going to be there for all of us, but flipping that around and really tapping into those qualities, and those things that we love, to make sure we get out of that is what we need to do. That’s what I want families to see.”
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