Our new series "Billy Connolly's Great American Trail" starts on Thursday 5th September

New Billy Connolly’s Great American Trail

First published in ITV Press Centre on 21st August 2019

Billy Connolly’s Great American Trail is an epic 3-part travelogue that sees Billy going far off the beaten track into the places you’ve heard of but have rarely seen, as he follows the migratory trail of the Scots through America.

Starting in New York and finishing in the heart of America, Nashville, Tennessee. This is a series bursting at the seams with music, football, gangsters, whales, real life moonshiners and not one but two, mad, bad and terrible presidents who both had Scottish parents! And they’re all tied up together in this incredible story of the land of the free, as seen through the eyes of our nation’s favourite comedian.

Katie Brewer
Wonder to make three-part Billy Connolly travelogue

ITV sends Billy Connolly back to America

First published in Broadcast on 19th July 2019

ITV has commissioned Banijay-owned Wonder to produce three-part travel series Billy Connolly’s Great American Trail.

The Scottish comedian, who presented the same indie’s two-part series Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland for BBC2 at the end of last year, will travel off the beaten track to trace the story of Scottish people in America.

Wonder has previously worked with the comedian on Billy Connolly: Tracks Across America for ITV.

Billy Connolly’s Great American Trail (3x60’) was commissioned by Jo Clinton Davis, controller of factual, ITV and is executive produced by Mike Reilly at Wonder.

Reilly said: “This series will show a side to America and to Billy Connolly that has never been seen before. It is a privilege to be working with such an amazing talent, and to bring his unique view of the world to our screens.”

Billy Connolly’s Great American Trail will be distributed globally by Banijay Rights.

Katie Brewer
Wonder featured in newly announced BBC science programmes

BBC announces ambitious range of new science titles

First published in BBC Media Centre on 5th July 2019

Filmed over the course of two years, Living With Dementia (w/t) will be unique for television, taking a longitudinal look at the illness. The length of filming will allow for the exploration of everyday life with dementia in all its complexities, and will allow us work with people with dementia and their families to track changes, subtle or significant, over a longer period of time.

The series will follow up to six people with dementia at different stages of the condition, to capture a powerfully candid insight into what it is like for them and the people around them. It will explore the complexity of this life-changing illness, how it can vary from day to day and how small shifts in the brain can have an unpredictable impact on people.

Contributors will be opening up their lives, allowing the series to follow the major events, but also the small, everyday moments that show how each person makes sense of their condition. What does it mean to deal with the shifting sands of a changing brain? How do identities and relationships change as dementia progresses? Life doesn't end as dementia begins and this series will chart the ups and downs of each person's journey.

Living With Dementia (w/t, 2x60') for BBC Two, is made by Wonder. It was commissioned by Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Specialist Factual and Natural History and Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two. The Commissioning Editor is Abigail Priddle.

Katie Brewer
BBC3’s Hometown — an unflinching look at the faultlines of a Muslim community

BBC3’s Hometown — an unflinching look at the faultlines of a Muslim community

First published in The FT on 14th June 2019

Mobeen Azhar’s previous documentary for the BBC took as its subject the continuing ire caused by Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses 30 years after its publication. The explosive Hometown (BBC1, Wednesday 10.40pm) makes the Rushdie issue look like a spat. Travelling to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire to write a piece about the shooting by police of a young Muslim father, Yassar Yaqub, Azhar quickly uncovers faultlines of secrecy and self-deception running through what he describes throughout as “my community” — Huddersfield’s Pakistani Muslims.

“This was an assassination,” Yaqub’s father insists, shedding what he movingly describes as “tears of love”. But while Yaqub’s affluent family mourn a beloved son and father and affirm his blameless character, that’s not what Azhar’s hearing on the streets, as he quickly picks up troubling details the family refuses to acknowledge. Yaqub’s Facebook profile tells the conflicting story of a “Team Soldier”, posing with a Lamborghini. As the picture grows ever murkier, Azhar feels torn: “If I criticise the community, then I feed into far-right narratives.” Still, he maintains, “that doesn’t mean we can’t ask difficult questions.”

Azhar begins each episode with brief montages of his early youth, showing his attempts to dance, grow a proper moustache and develop his fashion sense. “I love it here,” he announces, driving through Huddersfield’s lively streets set amid the brooding grandeur of the moors. With mounting shock, he realises just how much the place has changed for the worse in the 20 years since he left. Violent crime is endemic; push-pins in a map showing gun-related incidents quickly crowd out the street plan. There’s even been “a stabbing in my old road”, and a resigned young white boy observes that “stuff like this happens every day. It’s just how it is in Huddersfield, sadly.”

So what’s gone awry? Everything leads inexorably back to the drug trade, and Azhar, with his compassion, ease with interviewees, and insider status, penetrates deep, meeting heavily muffled dealers in so- called “trap houses” and piecing together supply chains. Azhar seeks to determine to what extent Yaqub is implicated, whether as minor player, “plastic gangster” or even kingpin. He’s staggered to discover that Asians are disproportionately involved in drug dealing when, as an interviewee observes, “If you’re Muslim, it’s haram, innit?” — forbidden by Islamic law. One dealer’s contorted interpretation of a “hadith”, or saying of the Prophet, shocks Azhar with its chilling cynicism.

Seeking to untangle the conundrum of rampant crime in a small, family-orientated community where everyone knows each other and everyone pays lip service at least to an ethical faith, Azhar pinpoints the culture’s rigid view of masculinity as a potential flaw. “In a lot of Pakistani families, the sons are not asked questions.” In contrast, Azhar’s willingness to pursue and confront the difficult truth is admirable.


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Katie Brewer
Deadstock: Ultimate Resellers featured as this week's best home entertainment

Deadstock: Ultimate Resellers

First published in The Guardian Guide on 31st May 2019

Deadstock – the reselling of apparel that has been discontinued – is a booming industry these days, and this BBC Three series sees wannabe resellers searching for hidden gems in warehouses and charity shops. Think of it as a millennial Bargain Hunt with trainers and Pokémon cards in place of knackered furniture.

Katie Brewer
BBC3 turns to fitness and antiques

Banijay indie Wonder wins double short-form order

First published in Broadcast on 3rd May 2019

An inspiring fitness series and an examination of the second-hand sales market comprise a duo of BBC3 short-form fact-ent commissions.

The Fiona Campbell-led channel has ordered Work It and Deadstock, both 4 x 15-minutes, from Banijay-backed indie Wonder, which has just been rebranded from 7 Wonder.

In the former series, three inspiring fitness instructors who have overcome challenges will work in a gym that welcomes all shapes, sizes and physical abilities. The aim is to help people learn to both love exercise and become less body-conscious.

In Deadstock, two savvy second-hand resellers will set up a warehouse and offer free authentications of strange items, telling the stories of how people came to love the unusual articles, which include Pokémon cards and rare designer bum bags.

Both series were ordered by BBC3 commissioning editor Nasfim Haque and are being exec-produced by Sarah Trigg.

Banijay Rights will distribute globally.

Trigg said the series would bring “fresh new talent to BBC3 via fact-ent formats”.

“Both shows mix entertainment with fun, fascinating and often moving stories from young people, on a platform that speaks directly to them,” she added.

Katie Brewer
Walks of Life now on BBC1 Sunday's at 11:30AM

Mehreen Baig and JB Gill present a series of walks exploring attitudes to religion, belief and our relationship to the landscape

First published in The Sunday Times on 17th March 2019

Celebrating the joy, wisdom and beauty to be found in Britain’s sacred spaces and its people, Mehreen Baig and JB Gill present a series of walks exploring attitudes to religion, belief and our relationship to the landscape. Breathtaking views are a given, peace and spiritual fulfilment is an aim.

Katie Brewer
BBC2 enjoys big numbers for Billy Connolly

Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland achieved
2.2m (11.7%).

First published in Broadcast on 2nd January 2019

Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland (BBC2) 9pm- 10pm, 28 December 2.2m (11.7%). A celebration of the Scottish comedian proved the biggest draw of BBC2’s trio of celebrity profiles between Christmas and New Year.

Katie Brewer