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1. THE GARDEN PRODUCTIONS
Last year’s ranking: 4
“They seem to do what we do, but more of it,” lamented one rival of the factual workhorse that is The Garden. The ITV Studios-owned company’s shows spanned all five terrestrial channels in 2016, from C4’s 24 Hours In Police Custody to Anne Robinson’s Britain for BBC1 and Channel 5’s ambitious survival show 10,000 BC: Two Tribes.
It remained the go-to indie for BBC4’s Slow TV strand too, venturing into the Yorkshire Dales in All Aboard! The Country Bus. In the words of one peer, this output represents “cutting-edge factual where programme-makers do their best work”.
2. MINNOW FILMS
Last year’s ranking: 2
The factual indie added another string to its bow in 2016 with two major dramas that looked beyond the headlines. BBC1’s Damilola, Our Loved Boy was a sensitive depiction of the events surrounding the death of murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor, while Channel 4’s The Watchman told truths about the UK’s surveillance society through the prism of a thriller.
Peers praised Minnow’s “fantastic storytelling and breadth”, celebrating its “slightly out of the usual” approach to documentaries. As one put it: “Class output - you always know it’s theirs.”
3. KEO FILMS
Last year’s ranking: 2
“Integrity”, “bravery” and “independence” are words that often come up when peers describe Keo, which delivered one of the best shows of 2016 in the shape of the Broadcast Awardwinning BBC2 refugee series Exodus: Our Journey To Europe.
There was also the experimentation of Channel 4’s multi-year reality survival show Eden and more Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall in BBC1 primetime with Hugh’s War On Waste.
4. STUDIO LAMBERT
Last year’s ranking: 8
“They’re on fire - a hit machine truly head and shoulders above all others,” declared one rival of the producer of one of the boldest new shows of 2016, Channel 4’s Naked Attraction.
Peers praised thecompany’s risk-taking spirit, which embraced both the nude dating show and the slow-burn hit thatbecame Gogglebox - and its offshoot Gogglesprogs - plus E4’s runaway success Tattoo Fixers.
5. BLAST! FILMS
Last year’s ranking: 13
Multiple years of growth - its turnover rocketed from £4m in 2012 to £22m in 2016 – underlie Blast! Films’ commitment to what one peer calls “distinctive popular factual”. The Sky-owned indie, which opened a second office in Brighton last year, delivered a record 64 hours in 2016, including Channel 4’s The Secret Life Of The Zoo and big orders for the channel’s Supervet and 999: What’s Your Emergency?. The latter, in particular, is the envy of its factual rivals. One observed: “Blast! has C4 bluelight shows all sewn up.”
6. LOVE PRODUCTIONS
Last year’s ranking: 1
Opinion might be split over The Great British Bake Off deserting the BBC for Channel 4, but among its peers, there remains much love for Love. BBC2’s Muslims Like Us was a classic provocative Love format, while GBBO enjoyed some well-received spin-offs before its BBC1 swansong, in the shape of Bake Off Crème De La Crème and The Chronicles Of Nadiya.
Rivals marvelled at Love’s hit rate. “These are great hit shows that capture the public mood,”declared one, while another added: “They seem to be able to get anything commissioned.”
7. LEFT BANK PICTURES
Last year’s ranking: 18
Sony-owned Left Bank has always been a respected drama player, but in recent years it has stunned the industry - by becoming the first UK indie to land a Netflix drama series and then more than delivering on its promise.
In terms of sheer scale and ambition, nothing came close to the first 10-part instalment of The Crown, Peter Morgan’s epic depiction of the Queen’s reign. “They’ve taken drama to a whole new level,” remarked one rival.
8. RED PRODUCTION COMPANY
Last year’s ranking: 8
Happy Valley, Ordinary Lives, Last Tango In Halifax and now The Five: any drama indie would be proud to have one, let alone four, such solid returners (Scott And Bailey having recently run its course). Nicola Shindler and co have been a regular fixture of this top 10, and for good reason. “Everything they make is top notch,” said one rival, while others praised the indie’s integrity and its dramas’ heavy sense of authorship. As one put it: “It is the home of ambitious and diverse writer-led ideas.”
Last year’s ranking: 11
Will Sharpe’s dark and distinctive Channel 4 comedy drama Flowers was an intriguing sidestep for Kudos, taking its drama panache into new territory. One peer admired its “great production values and breadth of programmes”, which alsoencompasses C4 sci-fi drama Humans, Sky 1’s The Tunnel and ITV’s Grantchester - plus an early runaway hit for 2017 in the shape of Apple Tree Yard. Blockbusters Troy: Fall Of A City (BBC1) and Tin Star (Sky Atlantic) are still to come.
Last year’s ranking: 6
A year after it came under ITV Studios’ wing, Twofour landed one of BBC2’s biggest shows in years: The Real Marigold Hotel, since transferred to BBC1. As if that wasn’t enough, it also launched one of the fastest-selling formats in recent times. This Time Next Year has already sold to 15 territories, nine of them before its debut on ITV - which has ordered two more series. Rivals pointed to its “great mix of creative edge, commercial ballast and regional roots”.