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Well at least they’re honest…

March 9th, 2006

Dr Petra

At the moment TV companies are all busy pitching in programme ideas they hope to get funded. And predictably a lot of these are about sex and relationships. Which means colleagues and myself are all being invited to get involved in forthcoming programmes. Most haven’t yet been commissioned and are still being planned, so TV researchers are vague about what any series/show would involve – and often equally uncertain about the role of any experts they’d feature. What they’re after is a list of ‘talent’ to reassure commissioners they’ve got someone on board should the programme be funded.

For me this usually leads to a bit of a dance where they’re trying to get me on the phone so they can include me as supporting the programme but also pick my brains for free information to scope their bids. I’m trying to avoid having these lengthy phone calls, so asking via email about the forthcoming programme to see if I can help, whilst they’re simultaneously unable (and unwilling) to reveal much about it since it’s all in the top-secret planning stage.

Normally this exchange comes to nothing after some discussions. This is mostly because the programme doesn’t get commissioned, or if it does you’re not picked as an expert because you’ve made it clear you won’t do anything unethical (and the show is clearly dodgy), or because someone famous is picked to front the show.

This week I had a novel approach where, even though it’s clear they’re not going to be doing anything kosher, at least they let me know it early on.

I was hit with a typically unsolicited email pitch (that was probably a round robin to a group of similar people), with the exciting subject ‘Casting for new TV programme!’:

“Dear Petra,
My name’s _________ and I’m a TV researcher with a production company called _________. We’ve got a really exciting project here and we’re looking for two new presenters for it. Hence this email to you!

We need to find counsellors/therapists/psychologists/agony aunts who have some expertise and experience in relationship work (not necessarily couples- they could be family members or friends). You don’t need to have TV work on your CV but you will need to feel comfortable in front of a camera of course!

It would be great if you could find ten minutes to chat about it over the phone so do give me a call on _____________….. If TV isn’t your cup of tea but you know someone who would be interested, please feel free to forward my details to them!

Ideally, I want to speak to people this week and invite people in to meet the producers for a little screen test as soon as possible after that.

Hope this all makes sense. Thanks for your time,

All the best,
____________”

This didn’t give me much to go on, and I was concerned the request neither differentiated between professions (so agony aunts, therapists, and psychologists were one and the same), nor appeared to need anyone with formal training (so if you’d just done some ‘relationship work’ with your mates that was as good as being a trained therapist).

As usual I thought I’d better try and see what the show was about in case it was a good idea that I could support. I replied:

“Dear ________
thanks for getting in touch. I’d need more information before making a decision about getting involved. Specifically what would the programme involve (on the part of the presenter/expert and participants)? I only agree to do television work that’s ethical and evidence based and helps provide sex positive messages to the public. If your show’s within that format I may be able to help.

If you want to email me details I can give you a better indication on whether I can help.

In terms of your search it might be worth you knowing that counsellors, therapists, psychologists and agony aunts are all very different professions with highly different skills and qualification levels. Again knowing more about your programme would help me know what sort of thing you’re after and whether it suits my skills base.

bw
Petra”

And the next morning they responded with:

“Thank you for your reply. After reading your email, I feel that you may not be interested in the programme that we are making. Thank you for your time though and good luck for the future.

Best wishes,

_________”

I can only assume that my interest in being ethical and evidence based didn’t suit the scope of their show (because probably isn’t going to be either of those things). Either that or maybe they didn’t want to involve someone arsey enough to suggest there may be differences between different professional groups, or who clearly had their own agenda, or who wasn’t biting their hand off to be seen on screen. Maybe I just sounded dull.

It was good of them to politely (and swiftly) let me know what they thought. Often you’re left uncertain of the direction of a programme or whether to further any involvement. At least with this response I was left in no doubt that our approaches were too different to allow a programme to be made. And it did stop us all wasting each other’s time.

Although now I’d really love to know what kind of show they’re planning to make.

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