Working in Television: In at the deep end

It has almost been a year since I had begun my internship at Maverick Television in the development department, a position I was able to secure through Careers Network and their UK Professional Bursary. After spending three months last summer working with the company in London I had to leave to study in Canada for a year. My boss, Paul Woolf, told me to stay in touch and that he would love to have me back next year, something I was very excited about! So I did just that, emailed him periodically over the year and then a month before I arrived back in England I asked him if he had any openings for me to re-join his team. Unfortunately he didn’t but he said he would pass my CV around and keep an eye out for anything that popped up. Sure enough, less than two weeks later I got an email from the newly promoted Head of Programmes at Maverick, Sarah Eglin, asking for a chat. I was extremely excited as I recognised her name as being the executive producer of Embarrassing . We met up the following month and I was offered the position of Junior Researcher in her own little development department in Birmingham (it consists of one person!). Tim, whose position I was taking over, was coming out of development and back into production which is his home territory. Whilst I am nowhere near as experienced as Tim in TV, this basically being my first TV job and all, I had been entrusted with handling his development responsibilities when he left. Thankfully, although I was been thrown into the deep end, I wasn’t being thrown head first as I had a two week handover period with Tim in which he went through everything with me from ideas in progress to how to handle petty cash.

The two weeks were an intense learning process where I tried to cram in all the information before Tim left. Sarah was away during my second week so it was left to Tim to bring me up to speed but he made me feel calm and comfortable and listened to all the worries that I had, even the stupid little ones. I constantly badgered him with questions, going back to him over and over again with draft after draft of a proposal to make sure that it was just right. I learnt how important the minutiae of language is when trying to write persuasively and to portray a particular feel of a show. Whilst it may not be as extreme as a comma in the wrong place means a show won’t be commissioned, but you want to start the show off to a good start and to ensure that the commissioners want to know more about it.

On my second day I managed to nestle my way into coming to the Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic filming, which broadcasts, as the name suggests, live every Tuesday evening. Whilst I was there for no particular purpose, I mainly hung around trying not to get in the way, it was a really fun experience and I got to have a look at what goes on behind the scenes at a live transmission. During the actual show people are very tense because the show is based around patients skyping in to the doctors with their ailments and so if the link goes down it is not good. The show is filmed in an old part of the QE hospital which is a bit creepy as you walk around and there are lots of empty rooms with abandoned objects and then suddenly you come across a bright white, shiny, state-of-the-art studio with a whole bunch of cameras in. Tensions are high but at 9pm the set breathes a sigh of relief as another successful broadcast has been executed and the only thing to do now is to wait for the ratings to come in the following morning. In the office I sit next to the key producers of EB Live and I get to see how much work goes into these programmes. Doing a live show is such a huge undertaking and these people work so hard preparing VTs, liaising with potential patients and handling any crisis that comes their way (which is quite a lot!). It was an extremely long day as I started at 9:30am and didn’t get home until 11pm, then up the next morning again to go back into work! It was a true taste of how exhausting working in TV really is.

In this job you need to have fantastic people skills and to know how to talk to people that could be potential participants in a show that you are making. Sometimes people are dubious about appearing in TV show but it is up to you to coax them through the process, being persuasive without being forceful. With Tim I went on my very first recce, where we went to meet some people who we might like to feature in a programme. This idea is in the very early stages of development and so we went in with an open mind for an initial chat. At first I was really nervous as I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out Tim didn’t either which actually put me at ease rather than putting me on edge. It doesn’t matter how experienced in TV you are, you will always have situations where you don’t really know what you’re going into but you have to have the skill and experience to relax and go with it, asking the right questions and doing the right things. It turned out to be a really enjoyable day out and it was a nice change from sitting behind my desk in the office. It gave me a taste of how varied TV work can be and that even if you are not working on a shoot you can be out and about meeting people.

On my second day I managed to inveigle my way into coming to the Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic filming, which broadcasts, as the name suggests, live every Tuesday evening. Whilst I was there for no particular purpose, I mainly hung around trying not to get in the way, it was a really fun experience and I got experience what goes on behind the scenes at a live transmission. During the actual show people are very tense because the show is based around patients skyping in to the doctors with their ailments and so there is always the risk of a link going down.  Tensions are high but at 9pm the set breathes a sigh of relief as another successful broadcast has been executed and the only thing to do now is to wait for the ratings to come in the following morning. In the office I sit next to the key producers of Embarrassing Bodies Live and I see how much work goes into these programmes. Doing a live show is such a huge undertaking and these people work so hard preparing Video Tapes (short outside of the main programme, eg for embarrassing bodies it would be Dr Pixie going out investigating bad) liaising with potential patients and handling any crisis that comes their way (which happens quite a lot!). It was an extremely long day as I started at 9:30am and didn’t get home until 11pm, then up the next morning again to go back into work! It was a true taste of how exhausting working in TV really is.

Lucy Vernon

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About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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