Q&A with Naked Entertainment’s Simon Andreae
Q&A with Naked Entertainment’s Simon Andreae
NEW YORK: Simon Andreae, the founder and CEO of Naked Entertainment, talks to TV Formats about the company’s take on delivering innovative, brand-defining, unscripted entertainment.
With more than two decades in the business of non-scripted entertainment, Simon Andreae has been on both the pitching and commissioning sides of the table. Last year, following a stint heading up alternative entertainment at FOX in the U.S., Andreae set up his own firm, Naked Entertainment, with the backing of FremantleMedia as a minority investor. Naked’s first commission, 100% Hotter, launched on 5STAR this summer, and Stripped and Stranded is headed to Channel 5 this fall. The company has also received two commissions from Channel 4’s on-demand platform, All 4: Britain’s Best Boy Racer and Threesome Dating.
TV FORMATS: What were your goals when you established Naked Entertainment, and how are you positioning it in the market?
ANDREAE: The company is [less than a year] old; we’re still a baby. The point was and still is to develop, create and produce innovative but mainstream factual-entertainment formats for the U.K., the U.S. and around the world. I have a particular interest in genres and approaches that are sometimes a bit radical, at times a bit high-wire, but at best can result in new turns of the wheel for unscripted television and ultimately provocative ideas that can become prime-time hits. That’s the point of the company. I’m also trying to create a family of best-in-class producers in the U.K. who can share a fun journey with an exciting brand over a number of years.
TV FORMATS: You’ve been a commissioner as well as a producer. How does your experience on the broadcast side inform your work as a producer?
ANDREAE: I’ve been in unscripted television for about 25 years, and I’ve spent about half the time as a producer and half the time as a network executive. Each side informs the other.
Network execs are looking at a lot of ideas—the pressure on their time is heavy. As a producer, it would serve you well to have ideas that are bold, attention-grabbing, simple and easily expressed, ideally just in the title or just in a title and a logline. The buyers have so little time to get through so many ideas, quite apart from their responsibilities to marketing, promoting and scheduling the shows, and in many cases helping shape the creative. You better have something that grabs their attention fast!
TV FORMATS: Tell us about your relationship with FremantleMedia. Why did you partner with them when you launched Naked Entertainment?
ANDREAE: I have known Cecile [Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia] for a few years. She was behind American Idol and The X Factor and a number of shows we used to broadcast on FOX in the States. I always found that she had a really good mixture of creative savvy and business strength. I wanted to be in business with her. The other thing was [that] I wanted a minority investor who wouldn’t own more than 25 percent of the company, so that we could remain a qualifying independent producer under the terms of trade in the U.K. I also wanted [to partner with] a company that was not closely affiliated with any one particular network, and also that had really robust distribution and reproduction arms. If we create a hit show, I want our partner not just to be able to make effective tape sales around the world, but to be able to make local versions fast. FremantleMedia has 23 international production companies around the world—they are among the largest, most proactive, most effective global IP disseminators.
TV FORMATS: How is the landscape for setting up an independent production outfit today?
ANDREAE: On the one hand, there are more and more outlets for television production, so there’s more real estate to occupy, which is good. On the other, there are certainly as many if not more production companies than there has ever been who are fighting for that real estate.
When setting up [an indie] today, it is helpful to have a backer, so that your back is not against the wall from the very first day. We’re privileged in that the funding [from FremantleMedia] will take us through what may be one, two, three years of loss making while we build our business. We have the backing and the comfort to be able to do that. I always work best from a position where failure is not the end of the world! [Laughs] It allows you to climb higher up the risk ladder. You can be more daring in your taste. It allows us to pitch shows that we feel might be a bit “out on a limb” [for a network] to begin with. It might take a while for a network to come on board.
The other reason it’s more competitive than it used to be is that networks still employ some of the best television executives in the world, but production companies are in a much more powerful position to attract skillful creative executives. Ten-plus years ago, being a commissioning editor might well be the pinnacle of your career. Now, midlevel commissioning executives know that they may have the opportunity to go into jobs that are bigger and better and more exciting in the independent community. That’s partly because of the size of many of the independent groups, and partly because of the opportunities that they can afford for both creative freedom and financial success. Those opportunities weren’t there to anything like the same degree 15, 20 years ago. In a way it’s exciting, but in a way it’s scary that you are, as a producer, now competing with a greater tranche of the best of the best than you used to.
TV FORMATS: What are some of the projects you’re working on?
ANDREAE: We’ve only pitched 10 or 11 shows—we’ve been patient and thoughtful about getting a good team together, and patient and thoughtful about the ideas we pitch and how we pitch them. Of those, we’ve sold six separate ideas: some are pilot commitments, some are straight to series. Our first series has started in the U.K.: it’s a sex-appeal makeover format called 100% Hotter for 5STAR.
Our new format is called Stripped and Stranded. One of the shows I created at Discovery was Naked and Afraid. It has a predominantly male audience. I wanted to figure out if we could make a show that would attract the male audience that is interested in survival techniques and the female audience that is interested in family dramas. Stripped and Stranded is a family survival show where in each episode, a family that is at war with itself is plunged into the wilderness. It’s airing on Channel 5 in the autumn. The channel’s commissioning executive uses quite a good phrase about the families: “If they can’t get on, they won’t get out!” You have to support your family members who you might not like or speak to at home. You have to pull together to find the exit point at the end of the journey. It’s got the best elements of family soaps if you like, and the best elements of survival shows, all wrapped up in what feels to me like an appealing, magnetic title: Stripped and Stranded. I’ve just come back from Panama, where we are shooting four episodes that make up the first season. The first two families have just completed the journey. There is an extraordinary amount of high drama. There are some comedy moments, but there is high drama and screaming and tears—and also embracing and redemption and expressions of love and forgiveness.
TV FORMATS: Is this the kind of format that requires a production hub?
ANDREAE: It doesn’t. It happens that we’re shooting the first four episodes in Panama, partly because there are very different micro-ecosystems there that we can use: swamp, mountain, beach, etc. Going forward, any episode can be shot in any remote environment anywhere in the world.
TV FORMATS: As you’re developing new ideas, how early in your creative process do you start thinking about how formattable a concept is?
ANDREAE: What we try to think about first is: how simple is it, how original is it, how extreme is it? If it’s all of those things, then I’m very happy. The next thing we always think about is, will this be something that has the potential to change television in some small way? Does it move the genre forward? If it does that as well, then we’ll almost certainly develop and pitch it. The other thing is, I’m fascinated by human behavior and the way in which television offers a fulcrum against which one can balance human morals and dilemmas and can consider the big themes of life: love, sex, marriage, friendship, betrayal, death, survival, redemption. If at its heart it has something that is core to the human experience, I get very excited. So [if a concept is] simple, original, extreme, can move the genre forward and is really about something that people fear or reach for, emotionally, that’s what we try to develop. You quite often find, of course, that if it is all of those things, it is quite likely to have scalability and saleability.