The BBC is to air a series of “very British” escapist and resilience advice shows designed to help viewers through the “tough times ahead” caused by the cost of living crisis.
The programmes include a new David Attenborough series about UK wildlife which features baby toads trying to escape giant leeches in scenes which echo the famous “snakes v iguanas” sequence in Planet Earth II.
Called Wild Isles it features 96-year-old Attenborough on location in Britain and includes footage of “toadlets” being attacked by leeches in Somerset as they try to cross what Attenborough describes as a “killing zone”.
Speaking at a BBC launch of new factual shows in London, the corporation’s science boss Jack Bootle said audiences are used to seeing landmark nature series such as Frozen Planet II “taking place in exotic foreign locations” so there is “something so exciting about turning that perspective to the wildlife of Britain and Ireland.”
That UK focus is a feature of many of the BBC’s new factual shows this autumn and winter, according to the corporation’s director of unscripted Kate Phillips.
She said the BBC wants “to bring audiences together” with something for everyone and with content that is “very British at its heart,” adding she thinks that is what “really distinguishes us” from the global streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon.
So the corporation will air a week of cost of living-themed programmes across shows such as Morning Live and The One Show along with other advice series, such as Stacy Solomon-fronted decluttering series Sort Your Life Out.
“It’s about showing people we’re in tough times but also giving them tips and trying to help them navigate it … what can we do as the BBC to help [everyone] through a very challenging time ahead,” said Phillips, though she said the BBC also wants to air, “amazing feel good escapist TV” too.
BBC factual entertainment and events lead commissioner Clare Mottershead added that “we need to make big television that grabs the attention” of youngsters away from rivals such as TikTok.
She said the BBC had “to do something to bring the eyeballs back to our screens” with “distinctive TV” and “box office talent” audiences will respond to.
These include Louis Theroux whose new interview series features six celebrities including Judi Dench, Yungblud and Stormzy.
In one scene Stormzy says his fame means he has trouble dating. After Theroux asks what the solution is, Stormzy says: “I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m just waiting for God to present me with my situation and my woman”. To which Theroux responds: “That’s a bit passive.” Stormzy replies: “It is but … I’m all out of ideas …”
Another series aimed at younger viewers is Planet Sex, presented by Cara Delevingne, whom Bootle says is “more conflicted about her sexuality than you might imagine” but “will do things that really I can’t quite believe an A-list star would ever do on camera.”
During a highly personal journey she goes to a lesbian and non-binary festival and is in tears as she says although she has come out, “I didn’t really find the community …I did it in the public eye which allowed myself to be pointed fingers at and feel more of the hate than the love. There’s so much love in there …I’m feeling things. I don’t usually do that.”
Other new series include a celebrity relationship show called Unbreakable and Go Hard or Go Home, a tropical island physical and mental challenge programme fronted by Jordan North about resilience, “which we think is really important to young audiences … trying to navigate a really difficult world,” said Mottershead.
The third and “most extreme” series of Race Across the World will also air this autumn, as competitors race across tricky Canadian terrain through six different time zones.
Other highlights include documentaries about the first British black BBC producer and broadcaster Una Marson, the workings of Parole Boards in groundbreaking Parole and the bombing of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior.
Also on the horizon are a “post-pandemic” dramatisation of how scientists think we will make contact with alien life, called First Contact, and The Elon Musk Show, which features interviews with Musk’s parents and ex-wife Talulah Riley.