We look for something where you go: ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that’

Fresh from finishing the first series of All Around to Mrs Brown’s last week, Alan Tyler was straight into the launch of The Mash Report. Involving some of the satirical website’s writers, it is not conceived to be simply a television version. “The reference points [in the brief] were The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, Brass Eye, That Was the Week That Was, shows like that.

“In all of those, there was an informed and smart wit combined with elements of surrealism and sketch, and which brought a new generation of performers to the audience.” But, added Tyler, Commissioning Editor, Entertainment, at the BBC: “We wanted something that recognised the strengths of those shows, but didn’t ape them; was its own thing. We wanted to find a new satirical voice, with a new generation of performers, of original voices.

“How do you select the next hit show? There is one common factor; do something different. It’s very rare that a hit show is exactly like the hit show before it. What we look for, is people working through the door with something where you go: ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that.’ And that’s where broadcasters take risks.”

Tyler has been responsible for shepherding a slate of hits onto our screens; Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, Robot Wars, Strictly Come Dancing, The Voice, Top Gear, and The Apprentice. He said the most successful programme ideas do not come complete: “I don’t like for people to do an ‘all or nothing’ pitch that’s 100% fully formed for beginning to end. It’s much better for creative people to come through the door, with an idea in an area that feels right for us, and together we build it into something that really works for us as a channel.”

Early in his career, recently graduated from St Andrews with a degree in pathology (“I had duel interests at school – science and the media – and I was lucky that I had parents who believed in not confining yourself to one category of career”), Tyler and a friend had an idea for a sitcom and sent it into BBC Scotland. It landed on the desk of Ian Pattison who would go on to create Rab C Nesbitt. “Our idea didn’t make it,” said Tyler, “but it was a great start; here was someone who was prepared to say: ‘I’ll give these guys a chance’”.

XpoNorth 2017: Screen Academy Scotland presents A Guide to Network Television Commis-sioning, 2.45pm, Wednesday 7 June – Jim Love Studio, Eden Court, Inverness.

Tyler said he was looking forward to XpoNorth; his first time at the festival, where he will be joined by colleague Jo Street, Commissioning Editor, Daytime & Early Peak, at the BBC. Both are responsible for UK programming, but are based in Glasgow. Like Tyler, Street has nurtured a roster of familiar names; Homes Under the Hammer, Antiques Road Trip, Eggheads and Money for Nothing. When I catch up with Street, she has found a quiet spot away from the noise of the London traffic. She is in a hotel where she is meeting Mel Giedroyc, former co-host of the Great British Bake Off, to run through a new quiz show from the minds behind The Weakest Link and Eggheads, called Letterbox, which she is fronting.

“There is a complex matrix of what makes a programme commissionable and ironically being a good idea is only one part,” she said. “Do we have something similar already off-peak, does ITV have something similar so where’s the public service value? It may make a good half-hour pro-gramme but can it sustain at least five and ideally up to 25 episodes?

“The single best thing about my job is when someone quite unexpected comes up with something. So, for example, Friel Kean Films had a track record of making gritty, observational documentaries for BBC Scotland. When I started, they came to see me, we got to know each other, started talking about ideas, and now they make Money for Nothing, which has been an enormous break-out hit in a competitive marketplace. And it’s from a small Glasgow-based company that had never made anything for the network before. Those are the fantastic moments.”