BBC Greenlights Pompeii Documentary Series From ‘Secrets Of The Saqqara Tomb’ Producer Lion TV

BBC Greenlights Pompeii Documentary Series From ‘Secrets Of The Saqqara Tomb’ Producer Lion TV


EXCLUSIVE: The BBC has greenlit a documentary series spotlighting a once-in-a-generation Pompeii dig from Secrets Of The Saqqara Tomb producer Lion TV.

All3Media-owned Lion has gained access to a huge excavation taking place on the site of the former ancient city, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius around 2,000 years ago.

In the BBC’s Pompeii, present-day discoveries about the Roman world will be combined with a ‘ticking clock’ narrative told through the stories of real individuals from history who witnessed the ancient disaster.

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“We don’t know what [the dig] will find but we do know the BBC wants new ways of hearing these stories,” said Richard Bradley, Chief Creative Officer of Lion.

Bradley said buyers are seeking docs with “cinematic and dramatic elements” that eschew a Western gaze, pointing to the positive reaction elicited by Lion’s 2020 feature film Secrets Of The Saqqara Tomb, which followed a team of Egyptian archeologists as they discover a tomb from the 25th century BC in a necropolis.

“The old factual grammar of presenter-led, narration-heavy storytelling is gone,” he added. “You need to take viewers on a journey of discovery.”

In a similar vein, Lion is working on an Alexander the Great docudrama for Netflix and another undisclosed project for the streamer, along with the BBC’s My Caribbean with Liz Bonnin [w/t], in which the natural history presenter returns to her Caribbean roots  to reveal the exotic wildlife and remarkable people of the region.

Filming at the moment, the BBC described My Caribbean as an “immersive natural history travelog” and Bradley said it speaks to Lion’s desire to produce “stories at the interface between the natural and human world” at a lower price point than David Attenborough-style BBC landmarks.

Financing is getting tougher as budgets spiral so Lion’s slate also features a number of shows with multiple networks attached including Smithsonian Channel/ARTE’s How the Mongols Changed the World and PBS Nova/ARTE’s Volcano, the latter of which tells the story of the world’s biggest ever recorded explosion and its impact on the island of Tonga.

“International partnerships are working in our favor,” said Bradley. “It’s one thing working for streamers but if you want to do something with broadcasters you have to look at these partnerships.”

Lion restructure

Lion, which also makes the likes of Bravo’s Cash Cab from its U.S. hub, recently restructured to focus on popular factual and children’s, with All3Media stablemate Lime Pictures concentrating on entertainment.

Lion’s Tom Watt-Smith was promoted to Creative Director, Specialist and Premium Factual of the reorganized outfit but he has left the business, with a replacement coming in due course. Emma Morgan, Jonathan Meenagh and Anna Abenson have also left the business in recent months.

The restructure was a “recognition of us doubling down on where we get most traction and want to invest our resource,” according to Bradley, who founded Lion with Nick Catliff more than a quarter of a century ago and has since helmed the likes of Horrible Histories and Netflix’s Sexy Beasts.

Genre-blending is another trend he is keen to take advantage of and Bradley’s outfit is exploring how to combine comedy with factual. It is working with scripted companies on hybrid drama-doc ideas.

“We have real value in a world where IP is so important while at the same time there is such amazing factual research taking place,” added Bradley.

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