Sunday, November 10, 2013

The next hot thing

Sunny Sunday mornings are always special. 

A leisurely soft boiled egg with soldiers lying lazily beside a frothing cappuccino, my computer open at a blank page, ready for the weekly update on my world. It’s my favourite moment of the week. Except that instead of a view of my frosted garden, I’m looking at the Empire State building glowing in the sunlight of a New York midtown skyline. 

Outside my hotel here in Brooklyn, the streets are still silent, no sign of life apart from a few tracksuits in the park jogging guilt into my brain as I order another round of buttery toast. 

I only arrived last night, and this afternoon I’ll be back in the care of British Airways, 14 hours of my weekend lost on a plane. It’s a long way to come for one meeting, but that’s the strange world of television. You work away at a project for months, and then suddenly somebody says they’ll meet you, but only next Saturday, and off you fly. Literally.

It’s my wife’s fault. She is our secret weapon, heading up our little development team. You may think she’s sunk into the world of Google, eyeing up the shoes, but all the time she’s just hunting out hot things. 

She is a zeitgeist surfer, the most valuable asset a production company can have. Jo rides just ahead of the wave of popular culture, spotting the trends that in a year or two will be on everyone’s lips. And apparently the latest hot thing is in Brooklyn, which is why I’ve been sent here to check him out and, hopefully, sign him up. 

Obviously I can’t tell you who he is – besides, you’d think she was mad at suggesting this would make good television. It’s the most important part of our job, predicting the future. 

Loveland - dating with avatars
Shortly after we started our production company back in 2007, Jo had this feeling about avatars and invented an ambitious dating format called Loveland, in which people could date each other hiding behind avatars. We made an expensive pilot, but somebody decided it was way ahead of its time. James Cameron must have been surfing the same wave of the zeitgeist as Jo, for Avatar was released in 2009. 

In 2003 I had this uneasy feeling that the wealth bubble was about to burst. I did some research, and found out that 37% of all people in America were out of their financial depth. No-one knew, there wasn’t a single newspaper article forecasting doom, it was just a feeling I had that people were pedalling at full speed just to keep going and that maybe it was time for a different world. 

So I invented Live Your Life For Half The Price. The broadcasters thought I was mad. Why would people want to downsize when the world was booming? It was a show for the recession five years before the recession. It was never made, of course – though now it would be in primetime. 

Sometimes they do let us broadcast our crazy ideas: it took me 3 years to persuade the BBC that kids might enjoy a show called Robot Wars, and it became a worldwide hit, inspiring shows like Scraphead Challenge, transforming the way our schoolchildren thought about science and engineering. 

That’s why we’re happy to risk the cost of a flight on Jo’s next big hunch – you never know when one of these crazy ideas is going to take off. It just needs one broadcaster to be surfing the same wave as us. 

I certainly hope they will be this week. It’s exactly one year since I pitched a particularly wild, dangerous concept to the BBC, and this week they, and an American network, are going to decide whether we can go to the next stage and launch it on an unsuspecting world. 

It’s make or break for our entire family, for if our show does go to America, we’ll be going too. Not to Brooklyn, but to Los Angeles, where this sunny November morning I read that it’s 80 degrees in the shade. 

Which would almost certainly make me the next hot thing.

No comments: