TURNING A PODCAST INTO A CULT TV SHOW
A View From the Terrace, the best football show on UK television by far
Kevin McKenna, The Observer
This is a story about a long held mission meeting an opportunity that then met a moment. A story about that chance then being attacked by a team of ambitious people who had no idea how to do it right, so didn’t know if they were doing it wrong.
Turning a podcast into a hit TV show.
They say that in Scotland there are two things you should steer clear of, politics and football, and if you do choose the latter, the chances are there are two great big giants you won’t be able to avoid. This is the story about how we took on one of them without bowing to the two of them. We took a podcast about Scottish football and made it a TV show that even people who didn’t like Scottish football liked, and this is how.
Turning ‘The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast’ into a TV show started ‘officially’ in September last year, but in some senses started a few years ago. Ian and I made a pact that a value of the company we were building would be that ‘we would support and help anyone in the company with an idea’. It just so happened that it was easy to say that, as the ‘company’ at the time was us two and no one really worked with us yet. Easy to support invisible staff with made up dreams.
Fast forward a few years and we now had a staff of five, who were very much real and not invisible. One of these people was Rob, a community manager. He had come to us from the SPFL, one of the bodies in charge of representing and promoting Scottish Football. For Studio Something he was the day to day community manager for one of our biggest clients ‘Innis & Gunn’, he had razor sharp wit and knew his way around the internet. When he wasn’t working for us though, his passion was clearly football, and not your trumped up million dollar diamond shoes EPL football, Rob was a salt of the earth lad who liked his beer in a glass and his football close to home. He was a Heart of Midlothian fan, but even more so he was a Scottish Football fan and in his spare time he didn’t just enjoy it, he publicly talked it up on a podcast called ’The Terrace’. The mission was real.
The Terrace had been going in some shape or form for nearly 10 years. It had been started by a friend of Rob’s, Craig Fowler, whilst at university and had existed as a way for real fans to talk about their teams. The podcast became a bit of a cult show for its irreverence but also its unquestionable knowledge of the game. It was fans talking about their team and your team in a voice you recognised but with more intelligence than you were used to hearing. They had been contacted by a commissioner, David Harron, at the BBC about making a pilot for an ‘alternative Football show’. The opportunity.
What the Terrace guys, led by Craig, knew was football, especially the Scottish variety. What they didn’t know was how to make a pilot for an hour-long TV show, never mind 10 episodes of whatever pilot the BBC would then choose. It’s fair to say at this point neither did we, but with years of advertising production and some short film experience we knew a bit more than those guys. After an initial meeting it was decided; this was our crack team. Studio Something would be represented by Ian (Executive Producer), Jordan (Series Director) and Andy (Series Producer) who together would take the show forward. The Terrace podcast team would provide ideas for the show and be the face. We had a team, we had ‘talent’ and we had a goal. Make a pilot.
Everything. And nothing.
As the director, what I heard when listening to the podcast was two concurrent but equally distinct things; the guys on the podcast seemed to REALLY know football, like, REALLY. They knew every player, every goal, every tactic. Everything. They explained bits of the game in ways no one had ever explained in a way I had understood before. BUT they also seemed to laugh at it, disregard it, mock and pick fault with the absurdity and trivialness of it in equal measure. It appeared to mean everything but equally they seemed as comfortable with the acceptance that at the end of the day it actually meant nothing. Of course it mattered if Naismith played but it also didn’t ACTUALLY matter if he played. In my eyes, this had to be a central theme of the show. It also fitted nicely with my view of the sport - I ‘loved’ it but as I grew older I found myself being as interested in many of the human stories about the game? How does it feel to make it as a player? How does it feel to not make it? Why are Scotland’s men’s team not very good? Why do hardly any Scottish players play abroad? These things became as interesting to me as much as the score did, not more, but equally as interesting. I personally felt that this was our secret sauce, a show that loved the game but poked fun at it. A show that could inform you but also entertain you. It could treat football seriously and find human stories of spirit and endeavour but also poke around at some of the oddities of the sport on the fringes.
We had our mission, we had our opportunity. Now we had our moment. BBC were launching a brand new channel in Scotland and the channel had a brief to make bold and engaging content with new talent. We could do bold and we were new. There would be no other time when there would be a brand new channel looking to fill the hours of its schedule with work from brand new creators. This was our moment.
Making audio, visual.
The big task for creating the show was how do you turn an hour of audio into an hour long TV show? The first thing we looked at was the ‘studio’. Fundamentally this was four guys sitting around talking about football - how did we make it feel fresh and also like the show was moving along?
With lots of sport chat shows the tendency is for the panellists to talk generally about the game. The conversation may veer from managers to transfers to formations with no clear sign posts for the audience as to what they are talking about other than ’sport’. If you have missed the intro to the show you may be clueless as to what they are talking about and for how long.
With AVFTT we wanted to create a show that felt more like you were watching a curated football channel for an hour rather than a show, never stay on anything for too long, but that kept sections clearly defined. So every show would be split into around 10 modular, but clearly defined chapters. Which would set the parameters of exactly what the studio boys were talking about and what the ‘rules’ of the section were.
In ‘Secret Sauce’ they would talk specifically about unheralded players, in ‘Fork In The Road’ we are talking specifically about clubs that are at a juncture in their history. In ‘Boyata Index’ they would be rating players based on their current form. In ‘Time Capsule’ they would be competing to lock away a piece of Scottish football nostalgia. Doing this meant that we could keep the topic of conversation clear and could allow our team of experts to be fully prepared with precise points rather than general knowledge, and the audience could be fully aware of what they were watching.
Breaking up the chat
One thing that was immediately hit upon was the idea of creating short VT segments for the show so that we would never be in the studio for prolonged periods. While the show would be predominantly studio based (about 75%) we felt that if we could break apart that format with constant changes in tone and visual style there was more reason for the audience to stick around to see what was coming next. You were never more than about 7 minutes from something new that was outside of the studio coming along to break up the chat.
These VT’s worked for the show in a number of ways; they were there to not just visually change the tone of the show, but to allow us to create content that could live and breathe further outside of the bubble of weekly topicality. While the boys might discuss what has happened in this week’s action a VT may explore a wider topic like - ‘Where are the next young stars coming from’?
The VT’s also allowed us to work with and promote new Scottish film-making talent. If we had a number of slots in a show to fill, it was an exciting thing to be able to hand one of these slots over to another director or filmmaker, new stories, new makers and new things on the telly.
‘VT’ means ‘video tape’. Who knew?
The VT’s and the studio worked in tandem - people online would see the VT’s in the week leading up to the show and their interest would be piqued. This would then drive numbers to the show to see other VT’s and the studio section. The boys would then keep them there with good quality studio analysis and discussion.
A true piece of link up play.
The DNA of the show, taken from the podcast, was that the show would treat Berwick Rangers the same way it would treat ‘big’ Rangers, why wouldn’t it? The only thing that separates those two teams is fanbase, yes there might be millions more fans of Rangers but if we were to only discuss or create content with the big clubs then we would be no different to anything else already out there.
We intended to follow the story, not the team.
We intended to follow the story, not the team. This idea actually came to life in week 12. There was an Old Firm game, Rangers versus Celtic, coming up. Most football shows would dedicate their coverage to this match as it is the ‘glamour’ game but, in reality, it was the end of the season, there was nothing to play for and therefore nothing really to talk about with that match. However, at the other end of the SPFL, down in League 2, Berwick Rangers were in fact fighting for their survival, fighting to stay in the league and potentially to continue to exist as a club. For us that was worth talking about.
Over the course of the season the show talked about and featured every single club in the Scottish professional game many times as well as many others from the women's game, the juniors and amateurs. It was football from all of Scotland.
We intended to make a show that wasn’t just about football, but to make a show that explored a ‘passion’. Why do we live this sport? Why does it affect the whole country? Why is it our ‘national’ sport?
We wanted to make a show that was about Football, but not just about football.
Here are some things we tried to explore with ‘A View From The Terrace’
Football fans look like this and like stuff like this
As a team of people making the pilot and then the show, it was clear that our range of interests extended way beyond just football, even our most diehard football fans in the team still loved other things, cinema, music, animation, comedy, art, baking, food. Just because you like football doesn’t mean it is going to be the only thing you like. Sounds obvious, but there certainly wasn’t any shows out there looking at football alongside any other mediums.
What did football look like when it crosses with music, with design, with animation? What does football look like from a kid’s perspective? What do ‘football fans’ like and what do ‘football fans’ look like? What does football look like when it doesn’t take itself so serious?
Why do people love it?
Football is great but it’s also silly, why on earth do many of us pay to go watch someone else do their job, we wanted to poke and prod at what football actually meant to people and what it stood for in their life? It’s kinda weird to collect football stickers right?
Football in the gilded cage
We wanted to explore what the reality of football was, the idea that football and footballers are in a gilded cage, felt like something too myopic, at the top of our nation’s game some of them may have a good life doing a good job but it felt antiquated to think that just because they were in an enviable position that there would not be more facets to them as people.
Football in the real world
And at the other side of the spectrum, where there is very little money and not much glamour, what is it like? Why do you play for a lower league team for little to no money when you’ve experienced the top of the sport? What does it feel like to work your whole life at something to not achieve it? What does it feel like to have to quit the sport you love to have a child?
Football in different places
For the majority of football fans, we are used to seeing Scottish football from a perspective of the central part of Scotland. Glasgow where the big clubs are and Edinburgh, the capital city clubs. If you fall amongst that or play these teams you will get your moment in the sun. But, the reality is that most teams that were outwith this bubble of influence were most likely underrepresented. We made the plan to explore all areas of Scottish football, from as far north as we could go to as far away as we could go. What was Scottish football’s influences in wee towns and in countries outside of our home nation
Football from a different view.
As well as where we looked at football, away up north or down in the lowest reaches of the leagues we also wanted to explore how it was presented, Were there any ways in which the game hasn’t been viewed or doesn’t get shown from, from this thought we approached a few different creative opportunities. What does the game look like in the dressing room, a place no fans ever really see? What would it look like if a film director like Wes Anderson was given the keys to lower league football highlights packages?
Football, Football, Football?
At the end of the day, the more we explored and the more we made we realised that in reality it is just the badge that changes, why we each love the sport, whether that be from the lowest unheralded rung to the glamorous top of the game didn’t seem to be all that different. We found that fans of the ‘big’ clubs weren’t switching off when they found out the show wasn’t all about them and equally the ‘small’ clubs appreciated being talked about in the same breath, with the same passion as the ‘big lads’. We even started to get contacted by people from outside Scotland with no previous interest in our nation’s game, confessing to switching on.
So, that was season one of A View From The Terrace. As we write this we have been recommissioned for a second season which will come back in September 2019, but that’s for future us to worry about.
For now, though, that was it. It was 13 hours of television, was made up of 46 different shoots, from Eriskay in the northern Scottish islands to Florence in the centre of Italy, almost 100 people worked on it in some shape or form and we think it captured the passion, the pride, the heart, the tribalism of football, as well as shining a light on the silliness, the absurdity, the hypocrisy and the foolishness of caring so much about a group of people putting a ball in a net.
That was Football on the telly, it meant everything and it meant nothing.