NBCUniversal-backed “Made in Chelsea” producer Monkey may have had to cancel its 20th anniversary celebrations this year, but that didn’t stop the London and Los Angeles-based outfit from getting seven shows over the line during the pandemic.
Formed by David Granger and Will Macdonald in 2000 and acquired by NBCUniversal International Studios (part of the Universal Studios Group) in 2010, the company is best known for reality hits like “The Real Housewives of Cheshire” and juggernaut “Made in Chelsea,” as well as quiz show “The Question Jury” and variety series “The Charlotte Church Show.”
Like much of the industry, the pandemic has tested the business to its limits, particularly when all production — including season 19 of “Made in Chelsea” — came to a crashing halt in March. But the minute the company saw a “glimmer of light” in easing lockdown restrictions over the summer, it leapt at the opportunity to get cameras rolling, as well as bag development deals with the likes of Lifetime and Disney Plus.
For Lifetime, Monkey is developing a big new reality proposition that will be “naughty and fun” in the social experiment vein, while a talent-led, family-friendly title is bubbling away for Disney Plus.
A deal is also in the works with “Love & Hip-Hop” producer Mona Scott-Young for a U.S. adaptation of ITV2 hip hop quiz show “Don’t Hate the Playaz” — which became the first U.K. television show to feature an all-Black, all-female panel last year — while production is underway on a local reversion of the Kevin Hart-fronted “Celebrity Game Face” for the BBC this Christmas, featuring “Call the Midwife” and “Miranda” star Miranda Hart.
“We thought, ‘Can we make shows and mitigate the risk of COVID?’ and we found a way that we could,” says managing director Samantha Lawrence. “We had to persuade our parent company that we could, which was a bit challenging, but we knew we could do it.”
When COVID-19 first paralyzed the U.K. industry in March, Monkey was in rehearsals for “Comedy Game Night.” The Comedy Central show, which previously aired on ViacomCBS-backed broadcaster Channel 5, eventually resumed production, albeit with a 69-page COVID-safe protocol. “What became apparent to us was that the more care we took, the stricter we were about the protocols,” explains co-creative director Will Macdonald.
Monkey has had positive cases across some productions, but has yet to shut down any shows, even temporarily, due to coronavirus. In addition to “Comedy Game Night,” the company also wrapped multiple episodes of “Celebrity Karaoke Club” (ITV2), “Don’t Hate the Playaz” (ITV2), “The Emily Atack Show” (ITV2), “Made in Chelsea” (E4) “The Real Housewives of Cheshire” (ITVBe) and “The Real Housewives of Jersey” (ITVBe).
“It forces you to creatively think of solutions and it’s improved some of the shows,” notes Macdonald. “In ’Comedy Game Night’ we couldn’t touch the buzzers for the quick-fire rounds so the team created these giant scissor hands with a glove on the end that was part of the game to hit the buzzer. It just made the thing funnier.”
Filming season 20 of E4’s “Made in Chelsea” — one of the U.K.’s most enduring reality shows, following a group of young, affluent Londoners — required “creating a world that gave us better editorial,” adds Macdonald. “We had to create bubbles with testing and isolation, but then we [had] a situation that created more drama because they were slightly more intensely with each other all the time, and that created a whole set of storylines.”
Granger notes, “Every single production had a different set of demands and obstacles to get through, which we managed to do.”
Earlier this year, Monkey expanded its U.K. roster of executive producers with the appointments of Andy Charles Smith and Nazleen Karim, who have gone to work on “Miranda: My Such Fun Celebration Special” and “Made In Chelsea,” respectively. In February, executive producer Ollie Brack’s promotion to head of alternative programming based out of Los Angeles also helped to cement relationships Stateside.
For now, focus has turned to the holidays with Monkey’s Christmas special for BBC One, “Miranda’s Games With Showbiz Names,” in which three celebrity couples join Miranda Hart from their own homes to compete in a series of Christmas games.
“We are shooting it in lockdown this week, with as severe restrictions as you can possibly get,” says Macdonald.