2 July 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
Five Minutes WithÖ Discovery Networks President and MD Dee Forbes
01 Oct 2012 : By Eva Hall
Dee Forbes
After her speech at the annual Irish Film & Television Academy annual TV Lecture, guest of honour Dee Forbes, the Cork woman who has risen to the top of one of the worldís most successful television networks, Discovery, spends five minutes with IFTN to talk about her busy schedule, what Irish producers need to do to get a Discovery commission, and how they can do it.

Talk me through a normal working day as the president and managing director of Discovery Networks Western Europe.
Iím a pretty early riser, I like to get up fairly early so Iím normally up about six. I get to the office probably about half eight. When Iím in London, the days are just full of meetings, back to back meetings, whether itís with programming, with marketing, with ad sales, about launching new channels, so itís pretty full on.

I do a lot of phone meetings because I have a lot of people that work for me in the Benelux, in Nordic, in Spain and Italy etc, so the day can be as varied as dealing with all of those countries or dealing with the UK issues, it depends. Iím probably travelling two days a week on average. I travel a lot, and then I aim to get home to Cork every Friday. Wherever I am in the world, I try and get back to Cork on a Friday. The days are long, I donít mind that, my philosophy is Iím happy to work Monday to Friday if I can have my weekends, and my weekends are pretty much my friends and family, so theyíre pretty sacred.

Discoveryís shows are generally factual reality shows. How has Discovery managed to curate so many reality-based shows that steer clear of criticism or going down the trash TV route?
I think thereís a difference, I think we do factual shows. We would see ourselves in the factual entertainment space, so weíre always bringing you something that is a) real, and b) itís going to entertain you. At the core of all that is satisfying curiosity, so youíve got to come away from it having learned something.

Whether itís a show on Lifestyle or on Discovery, itís the same mantra. We strive for real great quality, authentic stories, great characters, and shows that are shot and filmed in very high quality. Itís sticking to our core, itís sticking to what we believe in and what we started off as, and never losing sight of that.

Itís also about listening to the audience and seeing what they want. Thereís a quality attached to the Discovery name which we have to protect and grow, and I think that will ensure we get great ideas. People come to us with good ideas and great shows because they know that weíve got very strong values attached to our brand.

What would the ratio between UK v US shows that air on Discovery be?
Weíre a global company, so the bulk of our shows are certainly international, or theyíre of American origin, but they work internationally. For the Discovery channel in the UK, which would be the one broadcast in Ireland, probably 10 per cent of the content is what I would call local. But the bulk is international, thatís our model.

We aim to create and make stories that work worldwide and then we top it up with some local flavour in the key markets, of which the UK and Ireland is one. So hence, shows with James Cracknell, Freddie Flintoff, Ed Stafford, all those shows were made by the UK for a UK and a European audience. They didnít all show in the States for example.

Why, in your opinion, are there so few Irish shows that get air time internationally, not just on Discovery, but worldwide? Are Irish production companies not pitching elsewhere or are they not being commissioned?
I honestly donít know the answer to that, I hope Iím going to find out in the next few weeks. I was talking to a few people today about the fact that Ireland has a great name in film and in theatre. Those two translate and go around the globe. For some reason it hasnít happened in television and I donít know the answer why. It is why weíre here tonight, to say Ďletís see if we can do somethingí. Is it because they havenít been commissioned? It could well be. Is it because they didnít know people like us were out there? That could be it as well. So letís find out, letís see what happens. It took Stuart Murphy to come here last year to get ĎMoone Boyí commissioned for example, so out of these things Iím hoping things will happen.

Where do you see a gap in the market? What kind of shows would you like to see submitted from Irish producers?
We have very specific needs as to the things we want. I really would love to see great talent come out of here. Talent that can front shows, because it is something weíre looking for more and more and itís so hard to find. Just good presenters, good talent, be they male or female, in fact female are very very hard to come by. I think it would be super to get a presenter, and to get men, to find shows with a theme that would resonate around the world. That for me is hugely important and Iím hoping that somebody here will have some ideas and that we can find that theme and we can make that great show.

As well as great ideas, what else can producers do to better their chances at getting commissioned? Are there technological advances they should be taking advantage of to stand out?
Everything we do is HD now. Itís a fact of life, and I think the viewers demand it. We would certainly recommend it is HD quality. The kind of shows that we air demands that quality. HD is the norm for us now.

You are returning to Ireland with some of the Discovery Network team. Tell us whatís happening on November 2.
What will happen is, weíre going to have a pitcher idea, Discovery Day. My head of factual content Elizabeth McIntyre, and my head of lifestyle entertainment Sarah Thornton, are going to come. In advance to that, the people that were here tonight (at the IFTA TV Lecture) will email us their interest and weíll send back a brief to what we would like to see on the day.

Depending on the result on the interest, weíll decide on a time frame for everybody. Really itís to encourage people to give us some ideas, and then weíll meet with them and we go from there. Itís really going to start the conversation, because it takes a long time to get a show from idea to air, so I hope itís the start of a longer conversation and weíll see what comes out of it.

For more information on the Discovery Day, see IFTN.

See images from last weekís IFTA TV Lecture here.

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