producer and CEO
Karen joined BBC Entertainment was the co-devisor and launch executive producer of Strictly Come Dancing, one of the world’s biggest entertainment formats. She was then joint managing director of Shine TV - which became one of the biggest indies in the UK. In 2012, Karen launched and became CEO/MD of Tuesday’s Child Television which has been successful with new entertainment shows Superstar Dogs on Channel 4 and ITV’s Saturday primetime hit You’re Back In The Room.
1 Describe the moment the idea for Strictly clicked into place from being a few ideas whizzing round heads until it fitted together? Karen: It clicked as soon as I heard about it. I’d just started as an Executive Producer with BBC Entertainment in Sept 2003 and was sitting in the donut at Television Centre and my friend and boss Richard Hopkins was going through the Entertainment team slate discussing the shows I’d like to Exec and what they had in development.
A little way down the list he said “And we’re thinking of bringing back Come Dancing with celebs”, almost a little embarrassed as though he wasn’t sure what I’d make of it.
I instantly said "I want it!"
He was surprised and a little taken aback, I think.
But I just knew in my head, gut and heart that if we got it right it would be a magical entertainment event that could appeal to everyone from 8-80 years old and I wanted to be the one to make it happen. My belief never wavered from that moment.
2 Why do you think it has become one of the world's biggest entertainment formats? Karen: It’s a treat, it’s unique. Nothing bad happens. It’s not mean, or uncomfortable.
Genuine endeavour and achievement are rewarded and applauded. It has a real sense of humour, great story-telling, glamour, magic and romance, it’s unashamedly aspirational. It’s also timeless because it combines tradition and nostalgia with the contemporary elements of the highest production values, costume and music and all those values translate internationally.
People often don’t see the “sport” foundations of the formatting that make it so compelling and offer inbuilt drama, emotion and jeopardy.
It’s based on Dance Sport, a competition that has rules, it’s live, it’s scored and judged, there’s a result every show and an overall winner, they train, there is progression, but there’s always the possibility of having an “off game” – it’s a meritocracy not simply a vacuous popularity contest, but you’re still able to back and support your favourite team even if they’re not doing too well .
I took inspiration for some of the formatting points from figure skating (ironically, considering Strictly then “inspired” Dancing On Ice) but that’s why you have judges’ comments, then couples retire backstage to absorb the comments and wait for the scores, to build up to a second moment of drama of that reveal.
I always liked the observed waiting-backstage-shots before they took to the stage, the unguarded last minute intimate moments before the do-or-die performance etc, but not sure they do those anymore?
Ultimately, like sport, it’s an event, it’s mainstream, there’s something in it for everyone to enjoy, it’s a shared experience and quite frankly our Saturday nights matter to us and Strictly is TV that rewards you for staying in to watch it.
3 Where are you from, Karen - and what was your first job? Karen: "I’m originally from Middlesbrough and my first job was doing the “what’s on’s” for BBC Radio York. (I had also had student jobs which included being a waitress, working in the local chemist and being a chef in a Happy Eater…"
PANEL: Anatomy Of A Hit: Format Entertainment
(Thursday noon, Ironworks).