Broadcastnow.co.uk, January 31, 2014:
CPL’s bosses have a strong bond and an even stronger desire to make good TV. There’s a lot of love in the room. Danielle Lux and Murray Boland finish each other’s sentences, howl at each other’s jokes and exchange endless compliments. To the casual observer, it may come over as a shade luvvyish, but scratch a little deeper and you find one of television’s strongest and most genuine bonds. “She’s the other half of my brain,” Boland jokes. The CPL Productions bosses met 25 years ago on the set of Club X, which Boland memorably called a train wreck of a show during a 2013 Edinburgh session titled The Worst TV Show I Ever Made. The pair have been virtually inseparable since, with their professional paths crossing a number of times, including at Channel 4 in the early noughties, where Lux was head of entertainment and Murray oversaw E4. When not working together, Lux admits that they would holiday as a duo “all the time”. She brought Boland over to Celador Productions in 2005 and the pair completed a management buyout at the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? producer two years later. The collapse of the world’s financial systems did not deter CPL, which at one point was weeks from closing its doors. In 2008, it won its fi rst major commission: ITV’s All Star Mr And Mrs. It was a turning point, Boland remembers, putting CPL in a small pool of producers making a hit primetime entertainment show. Mr And Mrs remains strong for ITV. CPL initially built around this base with some forgettable factual efforts (remember Bravo’s Alex Reid: The Fight Of His Life or Louis Walsh And Kian Egan’s Next Big Thing – Wonderland for ITV2?) but, crucially, also secured a format with legs: Sky 1’s comedy panel show A League Of Their Own. Working to an open brief from Sky entertainment channels director Stuart Murphy, the show evolved out of a Paul Brassey quiz show and CPL fended off competition from a number of rivals to win the commission. A League Of Their Own is now in its seventh series and CPL has begun negotiations over a further three runs.
Best in show
“We thought it would work, but never in a million years did we think it would work as well as it has. It sounds terribly arrogant, but it’s the best panel show of its kind on television,” Boland argues. James Corden, he adds, shows no sign of losing his enthusiasm for the series either. His shtick with regulars Jamie Redknapp and Andrew Flintoff plays a major role in attracting big sporting stars and lends the show its warmth, which Boland credits as a big part of its success. ‘Warmth’ is a word that crops up many times over the course of our interview. Another good example is Off Their Rockers, ITV’s pensioner prank show, which, Boland says, bucks the trend of many hiddencamera formats because it generates something of a glow. Not that this was always the case. Originally piloted for BBC1, the show stubbornly refused to click in its early iterations, but Lux says it eventually fell into place when Boland included shots of the pranksters and unsuspecting members of the public laughing in the aftermath of a sting. Off Their Rockers is based on Belgian format Benidorm Bastards, distributed by Red Arrow Entertainment’s Red Arrow International. It helped open the door to wider discussions with Red Arrow, a door that ultimately led to CPL becoming part of the ProSiebensat1- owned production entity in a March 2012 deal worth up to £8m. Lux says they were in talks with potential suitors for some time, with the ambition to strike a deal that would open up a pipeline of tried-and-tested formats. Red Arrow, run out of the UK by James Baker, struck a balance between providing this and offering a hands-off approach to ownership. “We realised when we had success with Mr And Mrs that we were competing with the biggest indies in the world,” Boland explains. “We needed a ready supply of formats from abroad that had proved themselves.” Lux adds: “They are decent people, morally intact. We had a courting process for a really long time because we didn’t want to get into bed with people we couldn’t work with.” One format CPL got its hands on was The Taste, a blind tasting bonanza that had already made waves in the US on ABC. A Channel 4 version was launched in a blaze of publicity earlier this month – not to mention a slew of unrelated front page headlines for star judge Nigella Lawson – but its ratings have been underwhelming. A debut of 2.1 million (7.9% share) viewers gave way to a second instalment that could muster only 1.3 million (4.8%). The third episode delivered an overnight audience of 1 million against BBC1’s popular Death In Paradise. Speaking before transmission, Boland and Lux talk with pride about the show. Both are fanatical amateur cooks, and the production was a genuine passion project. “There’s a piece on how to cook a basic tomato sauce: God, it’s riveting,” Boland jokes. In a statement to Broadcast following the show’s transmission, Lux and Boland said: “We are delighted with the show. Nigella, Anthony and Ludo are brilliant talent – they are a joy to work with.” The format pipeline will continue with controversial German show Married At First Sight, now in development at C4. The Red Arrow deal has also paved the way for a partnership with The Apprentice creator Mark Burnett’s One Three Media. CPL will house the company’s UK operations and help bring over its US formats. This is distinct from CPL’s ambitions to re-energise its own fact ent content, which is being spearheaded by Silver River Productions’ former head of development Deborah O’Connor, while scripted comedy is also a priority. Here, CPL is growing female-skewing ideas out of its radio division and has two projects in development with ITV, but it remains “very early days”. Lux has strong ties in the comedy world and a track record that includes helping bring Jonathan Ross to the BBC in 2000, and handing Jimmy Carr his first C4 deal in 2002. It helped CPL land the production deal for The British Comedy Awards. If making TV for laughs is a speciality, then Lux and Boland also believe that having fun producing it is just as important. It is part of a culture they work hard to maintain. “We wanted to have a company that reflected what we wanted: to make really good television and have a laugh,” Boland says. Lux adds: “If you can provide a place where people can do good work, then that will result in good television.” Which brings us back to the bond between Boland and Lux. “It is complete love and trust,” Lux says, before the pair share a warm embrace.