Plimsoll Takes a Bite of Apple

April, 19 |

Three natural history docs and a Rafe Spall relationship comedy among early commissions

Natural history producers and BBC Studios are among the big winners in Jay Hunt’s first slate for Apple, Broadcast understands.

Details are emerging of around 10 shows that Hunt has commissioned, although none has been formally announced.

Three of the titles are significant natural history projects: BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit is understood to have secured a major series about dinosaurs with a big-name director, while Grant Mansfield’s rapidly growing Plimsoll Productions and emerging indie Offspring Films have also won commissions.

Ordering three natural history series chimes with Apple’s intention of creating programming with a higher purpose. Many sources have noted the similarities between its ambition to create shows that “contribute, inspire, challenge assumptions and change the world” and the tenets of traditional British public service broadcasting.

BBC Studios has also picked up a relationship comedy starring Rafe Spall and Esther Smith, both of whom previously appeared in the White Christmas episode of Black Mirror. An image of the two actors appeared on-screen briefly during the Apple TV+ launch event last week. The writer is not known but this is understood to be the secret project that head of comedy Chris Sussman will produce before leaving BBC Studios.

Next, Wall to Wall has landed a doc series about childhood development during the first five years of life. It is thought the series will feature children from multiple locations around the world and cover new scientific research about the topic.

Apple has also ordered an epic travelogue from Ewan McGregor and companion Charley Boorman, most likely a motorcycle odyssey akin to Long Way Round and Long Way Back from the early to mid-2000s. Big Earth Productions made those shows and is the most likely producer of the new show.

More than 10 representatives of the UK slate travelled to Cupertino, California, last week for the Apple TV launch event, including Offspring’s Alex Williamson, Wall to Wall’s Leanne Klein and representatives of the BBCS rom-com.

It is also thought Hunt has drama projects under way with See-Saw Films and Keshet, although details are scant.

Luther writer Neil Cross is known to be working on an Apple project (his name was on Apple’s list of talent during the presentation) but this is thought to be coming out of California. Hunt’s remit extends across Europe and it is thought Apple may consider bilingual or non-English language drama in the future.

In the case of each original series, Apple is understood to be buying global rights, and paying a sizeable premium for the privilege. It has decided not to go down the co-pro path and is insisting that its new AppleTV+ is the sole provider of its content anywhere in the world.

PSB-style vision

Tim Cook, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht have spelled out an almost public service broadcasting-style vision for AppleTV+, with the tech giant’s chief executive hoping the new service can “encourage new ways of looking at the world”.

At a star-studded presentation in Cupertino, California, heads of global video programming Van Amburg and Erlicht outlined an ambition for the new venture to be “not just another streaming service”.

A key differentiator will be its optimistic tone, with programming conceived to “connect us to something bigger than who we are as individuals”, according to Van Amburg.

AppleTV+ will be an unashamedly mainstream play – the service will be available to the tech giant’s 1.4 billon customers around the world and it will not want to court controversy.

As a result, some rival US-based services have poked fun at Apple’s programming strategy, suggesting to the production community that it is only prepared to order “Disney shows”.

Serious issues

But Apple revealed it is prepared to tackle serious subjects – Oprah Winfrey outlined documentaries about sexual harassment in the workplace and the “scourge” of depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress – and there is crime on the AppleTV+ slate in the shape of Truth Be Told, an adaptation of Kathleen Barber’s true-crime book Are You Sleeping.

Drama producers who have pitched to Jay Hunt in London told Broadcast that Apple is taking a nuanced approach and they believe the company is comfortable with the idea of sex and violence in scripts, for example, so long as the project has an obvious moral compass.

Away from originals, which will be added to the service every month, Apple TV’s big selling point is comprehensiveness. It has been conceived as an Amazon Channels-style aggregator that will attempt to replace a typical pay-TV bundle by offering services such as HBO, CBS All Access and Epix on an à la carte basis.

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