TV & Me with UKTV’s Helen Cooke

TV & Me with UKTV’s Helen Cooke

This week we talk to Helen Cooke, UKTV Commissioning Editor, Entertainment.

Where did your career in the industry begin, did you always want to work in TV?
Even though I’ve always been a TV addict, media studies was not widely available at degree level when I was younger, so I never really considered it as a career option. I did Mechanical Engineering at university and thought I’d go into banking after university or similar, but that all changed when I first saw Channel 4’s Tourist Trap. I just thought it would be such a fun job to be able to make TV shows like that. So I set about researching the types of shows that I’d like to make, and who made them. During this time I sent my CV to a local weekly regional debate show called “Central Weekend Live” as I always enjoyed the late night punch ups. I got a try out as a researcher for 4 weeks and the rest is history!

You’ve worked on some landmark entertainment shows like XFactor and Come Dine with Me, what do you like most about working within the genre of entertainment?
All television genres are about telling stories. I think entertainment just does this in a more innovative and noisy way. Also, it’s great to handle the bigger scale budgets as it means you have more to play with as a producer and can attract bigger talent. What really excites me are brilliant, simple entertainment formats. Come Dine with Me is an example of this and it came out of ITV Studio’s Factual department, so it also shows how broad entertainment programming is – it’s a great place to be.

How does working on a big budget show like X Factor compare to working on smaller scale productions?
You work just as hard! Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to series produce a wide variety of entertainment shows, both large and small scale. Often, I think you can’t be fazed by the gravity of what you are doing as it would put you off your job entirely. You need to have the confidence and self-belief and you can do anything and get on with it.

You’re now working as a Commissioning Editor for UKTV, how easy was that transition to make after working for so many years working in Production?

It was an easy transition as I have always been passionate about ideas. When I was a series producer at ITV I had one of my formats, “ ….And Proud” commissioned that is now a returnable series for Sky Living. I have always made time to come up with ideas and made sure I was invited to development meetings. Then, when the opportunity came up to commission Entertainment formats for UKTV, I thought it was the dream job that allowed me to be at the heart of the ideas process, and be part of the bigger picture.

What do you enjoy most about working as a commissioning editor
I’m in a very privileged position. I love meeting talented indies, hearing their ideas, then thrashing them out to see if we can come up with a format that will fit our channels. I think UKTV is a very exciting place to be at the moment because our audience share is currently more than 6% up on 2012. We’ve been tasked with looking for totally innovative and original ideas with a multiplatform element, and these don’t grow on trees. That is part of the fun – hunting for the next big thing.

Presenter led entertainment formats have been critised for being predictable and dull. Is it possible to keep a format fresh or do formats ultimately tire and die?
Having a presenter is all about adding authenticity to a subject. Fresh faces with fresh passion projects will stop things getting predictable and dull. There’s nothing worse than being pitched a format with talent attached who has nothing to do with the core subject.

What do you think about BBC1’s The Voice?
It will be interesting to see how it plays out as early days yet. It’s definitely a neat format but Jessie J needs to stop singing when the acts sing.

Has X-Factor had its day?
It is not over until the fat lady sings…… again.

What are your current commissioning needs at UKTV?
This year we are investing double digit millions in original scripted comedy on GOLD. Also there’s a focussed push to deliver more award winning entertainment commissions such as Dynamo on WATCH. Over in the factual and lifestyle channels, there are still some choice slots on HOME and GOOD FOOD. Finally on DAVE and YESTERDAY are looking to commission for 2013 slots. To get a more detailed picture take a look at our commissioning pages on the UKTV website.

Commissioners are notorious for being hard to get access to. How do you decide whose ideas to listen to?
We welcome approaches for all indies , large and small. Every idea that is sent to us is considered very carefully. When an idea comes in it is logged in our commissioning database so your intellectual property is protected. Then it is circulated to the relevant commissioner. We have a rule that we reply to the sender within 4 weeks with constructive feedback and let them know if their idea is going to get progressed.

What advice can you give to those who want to get their proposals heard by those that matter?
If you are really passionate about your idea and think it will fit our channels, has a real innovative and multiplatform element, then please don’t be afraid to contact us! Also do your research on who you need to email your proposal to on our commissioning website. Please clearly state in the proposal title and what channel you are pitching for in the subject of the email. It is always better to email and not call so we have a formal record of your ideas.

How do you see TV Entertainment evolving over the next 10 years, what’s your vision of things to come?
Dual Screen and interactivity will be the way forward. I’m still waiting for “Running Man” to actually be commissioned – with looters instead of convicts.

From a personal view point, is there anything you’d like to see more of on the television?
Formats about giant vegetables.

Helen Cooke is Commissioning Editor, Entertainment at UKTV.