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Talk(TV) of the town

TalkTV has recently relocated its entire production capacity to owner News UK’s newly expanded studios in London Bridge. The channel’s creative head, Erron Gordon, tells David Davies about evolving show formats and his desire to move away from virtual studio sets

A little over 12 months ago, TalkTV announced that it was to begin broadcasting on both linear TV and streaming services from April 25, 2022. While some studio production was to take place from owner News UK’s facility in London Bridge, the fledgling news and current affairs service would also be using studio space in Ealing for several flagship shows, including Piers Morgan Uncensored.

But now, thanks to a fresh studio expansion at the London Bridge site, TalkTV is basing all of its production out of the same central location. Referring to the Ealing space – which had been rented from Timeline Television – News UK executive creative director and head of studio output Erron Gordon says: “Predominantly, we had been using [virtual studio sets] for two out of our four main primetime shows. It worked very well for us, but as part of the move into the HQ at London Bridge we wanted to build out, lose the virtual element, and create a hard set.”

For despite the ubiquity of virtualisation in news these days, it’s apparent that Gordon is no great fan. “I don’t like virtual studio sets myself,” he confirms. “As someone who has been working mainly in news and current affairs throughout my career, I think that real sets are better for the audience [and the subject matter].”

TalkTV new studios at London Bridge (All images courtesy Darren Fletcher)

He also wanted a more intimate feel for Morgan’s show, in particular, in correspondence with its growing emphasis on one-to-one interviews. “The studio in Ealing was very nice and beautifully designed,” says Gordon. “But it was “a big space, and with the show format developing in a different direction I felt that [a smaller space in the News Building] would do a lot better for us.”

‘All the shows look very different’

Whilst a virtual approach has been sidelined, Gordon indicates that each show has been endowed with its own distinctive look thanks to the imaginative use of furnishing as well as LED screen technology and lighting.

“All the shows look very different,” he says. “For example they all have different screen content and lighting. It’s certainly the same channel and brand, but every show has its own sub-brand within that to identify its part of the content.”

TalkTV is now primarily making use of two studios in the London Bridge building. One has a sofa and “a much softer environment” in general, and is used for output including Vanessa Feltz’s drive-time programme and 9pm discussion show The Talk. The other studio incorporates a desk-based design and is deployed for shows presented by Morgan, Jeremy Kyle and Tom Newton Dunn.

For the development of the new facilities, Gordon worked in close collaboration with head of broadcast technology Nick Prater. The set design was put out to tender and ultimately awarded to Jack Morton Worldwide, a broadcast design services company that has created sets and scenic environments for many prominent news, sports and entertainment brands.

“They are a really good agency, with a tremendous amount of experience, and in fact [executive design director/SVP] Andre Durette had designed the GMB [Good Morning Britain] set for me back in 2018,” says Gordon.

On the lighting side, the TalkTV team enlisted the services of three leading companies: JLLighting for a variety of TV lighting solutions; DigiSet, which looked after all of the decorative lighting; and B360, which provided lighting design and project partnership. “It was a really good collaboration and relationship with all of the third-party companies,” says Gordon.

He also highlights the use of both automated and non-automated cameras in a period when the former are becoming more commonplace in news and current affairs. “One of the big changes we made from Ealing to London Bridge is that we still have some manned cameras and some robotic ones,” says Gordon. “So we use the Shotoku robotic camera system in the studios here, mixed in with a jib, Steadicam and so on.”

Production-wise, TalkTV’s operations are based around the Avid iNEWS newsroom system and ChryonHego’s Vidigo News, whose single operator control and template-based workflows support the creation of cost-efficient content. For graphics, a partnership with MOOV involves extensive use of ChyronHego’s Prime platforms to run lower thirds and banners.

‘Producing more hours of output’

Invited to consider how the production workflow of the channel might evolve in the future, Gordon indicates that it could involve “some level of automation; to my mind, that is the way that we are going to be able to produce more hours of television output. We still want to ring-fence a threshold of quality around shows like Piers Morgan Uncensored, which is a big flagship for us and recently hit 1 million subscribers on YouTube. That’s not to say that automation isn’t quality, but it [does mean a] different result.”

Erron Gordon

There will also continue to be an important element of content-sharing within the News Building – for example with visual radio – as traditional demarcations between TV and radio production become more blurred. “We do have a hybrid output [and a] multi-platform product that works on the radio as well as on TV. In broadcast services, in general, I think there is going to be a lot more of that cross-pollination,” says Gordon, noting that some of TalkTV’s “most watched names” are aired on visual radio during daytime hours.

One year on from the channel’s launch, Gordon sounds upbeat about its long-term prospects. “It has been an interesting journey, and now being back at the News Building is a big deal personally for myself and our team,” he says. “We are now into Phase 2, [which is also distinguished] by a new head of TV for News UK, Richard Wallace, whose vision and leadership are excellent. We are [currently looking at] the slots at the beginning and the end of the day, and want to do more from the studios. It’s exciting to be part of it all.”