Tv pro­ducer re­joices in feel-good for­mats

Stel­lify Me­dia boss Kieran Do­herty tells Mar­garet Can­ning how an ad in the Belfast Tele­graph helped him to dis­cover a glit­ter­ing ca­reer in tele­vi­sion

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY MAR­GARET CAN­NING

THE joint man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of pro­duc­tion com­pany Stel­lify Me­dia has said he’s pleased to be work­ing in “feel-good TV”.

West Belfast man Kieran Do­herty ( right) set up Stel­lify with Matthew Wor­thy in a joint ven­ture with Sony five years ago.

The com­pany has fin­ished on 20 episodes of a new out­doors game show called Flinch for TV stream­ing ser­vice Net­flix.

And it’s also made a new se­ries, Hot Right Now, with BBC NI.

It fea­tures some of the mod­els who took part in Beauty Queen and Sin­gle, an­other Stelli- fy Pro­duc­tion for BBCI NI. He said he’s happy to work in for­mats which he says will make peo­ple feel good. But Mr Do­herty ad­mits Brexit may have an im­pact on the in­dus­try.

Stel­lify Me­dia co-founder and west Belfast man Kieran Do­herty (40) has built a glit­ter­ing ca­reer. The com­pany he co-founded with Matthew Wor­thy in a joint ven­ture with me­dia gi­ant Sony is mak­ing some of the UK’S big­gest light en­ter­tain­ment and quiz shows, in­clud­ing re­boots of clas­sics Who Wants To Be A Mil­lion­aire? and Blind Date.

The Belfast-based com­pany has also fin­ished mak­ing Flinch, an out­door game show for stream­ing ser­vice Net­flix, filmed in Co Antrim. It has also made a string of en­ter­tain­ment shows for BBC NI, in­clud­ing Beauty Queen and Sin­gle and Par­ents’ Evening. The com­pany is also in the mid­dle of shoot­ing Hot Right Now — fea­tur­ing Ra­dio Ul­ster DJ Vinny Hur­rell and four of the ‘Beauty Queen and Sin­gle’ stars.

He’s also in­volved in in­dus­try bod­ies, as di­rec­tor of PACT and chair­man of the Royal Tele­vi­sion So­ci­ety in North­ern Ire­land.

There are around 14 staff at Stel­lify’s of­fices in Howard Street in Belfast, but when pro­duc­tions are go­ing on, the work­force can reach up to 150.

Kieran, who’s mar­ried to ra­dio­g­ra­pher Jane Cousins and is fa­ther to six-year-old Fin­tan, won’t give away any fi­nan­cial de­tails, but says the com­pany has had an ex­tremely healthy cou­ple of years.

Yet he cheer­fully ac­knowl­edges it’s been a long and wind­ing road which has led to where he is now.

He was a happy-go-lucky stu­dent at his sec­ondary school Cor­pus Christi in west Belfast, grow­ing up the youngest of five boys in New Barns­ley Park.

His fa­ther Patrick, who died five years ago, was a dock worker and later a fork­lift driver, while mum Marie is a house­wife.

“I had a real bliss­ful child­hood, with four older brothers. My mum would al­ways take me to the li­brary and I loved read­ing and I loved books. I al­ways thought I’d grow up to be a writer and write books.”

De­spite the lit­er­ary lean­ings, he says he was a lost cause af­ter a cer­tain point at Cor­pus Christi. “The teach­ers were bril­liant if you had any kind of sense or lean­ing to­wards any­thing. But once I dis­cov­ered al­co­hol and girls, that was me for­ever lost.”

He left school with four GCSES and an E, N and U in his A-lev­els, and went straight into work, meet­ing fu­ture wife Jane while work­ing at out­door goods shop Tiso in Belfast city cen­tre. Kieran says he threw him­self into ev­ery job he had, but that he al­ways had the feel­ing there would be a big break. “I worked down round the docks for a while. I worked in The Em­pire Bar, I worked in the shops, and I worked in the Abbey Na­tional call cen­tre, al­ways with a view to get­ting that break.

“If I hadn’t had that break, I’d still be do­ing those jobs now. And it didn’t oc­cur to me that I wouldn’t find that break. I didn’t mind do­ing jobs I didn’t en­joy, be­cause I al­ways knew they were tem­po­rary, and I al­ways en­joyed the ca­ma­raderie. “It doesn’t have to be any­thing other than it is. You work

for your bonuses in the call cen­tre — I just kept my head down and worked hard. My dad al­ways said to do the best job you pos­si­bly can and I’ve al­ways had that men­tal­ity.”

He later went back to tech­ni­cal col­lege to study me­dia-re­lated HNDS and NVQS. But it was while he was work­ing in the Abbey Na­tional that he spot­ted an ad in the Belfast Tele­graph: “Do you want to work in tele­vi­sion?”

He ap­plied, was suc­cess­ful and then worked for nine years with Wild Rover Pro­duc­tions. “It made en­ter­tain­ment TV shows. I was look­ing for any­thing and I was des­per­ate to get a break. That’s where I met Matt Wor­thy.”

He still re­mem­bers the nerves he ex­pe­ri­enced the first time he walked onto a TV set — and de­spite now be­ing the boss, he still ex­pe­ri­ences it. “When you go onto a set, it’s like your first day in school and ev­ery­body knows ev­ery­body else. I get lost ev­ery­where. I al­ways have that anx­i­ety when I go to a stu­dio, even though I’m in charge.”

He stayed in Wild Rover for nine years, work­ing his way up to ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and form­ing the cre­ative team with Matt. Their pro­grammes in­cluded The David Meade Project, Se­cret For­tune, which was hosted by Nick Knowles, and Dara O’bri­ain: School of Hard Sums.

But the urge de­vel­oped to set up their own busi­ness. “Stel­lify will be five years in busi­ness this March, and it’s just been a crazy five years since we de­cided to go out on our own.”

Join­ing up with Sony gave them the chance to “widen our shoul­ders” and get in­volved in a big­ger scale of pro­grammes. The other pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies owned by Sony in­clude Left Bank Pic­tures, which makes The Crown, a crit­i­cally ac­claimed, fic­tion­alised drama about the Royal Fam­ily in the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. He sums up Stel­lify’s pro­gramme mak­ing as “any­thing that’s a for­mat — any­thing you can make in the UK and Ire­land and then in a dif­fer­ent ter­ri­tory”.

But he says they want their shows to be “warm and lovely.” Beauty Queen and Sin­gle in­volved beau­ti­ful women in search of love, while Par­ents’ Evening, an­other TV show for BBC NI, fea­tured par­ents and teach­ers in dis­cus­sion about their chil­dren in schools around North­ern Ire­land.

“Ev­ery­thing we’re mak­ing is al­ways our favourite thing at the time we are mak­ing it and it tends to be uni­ver­sal in its themes. With some­thing like Beauty Queen and Sin­gle, we al­ways knew you could make it any­where you want. It’s a uni­ver­sal theme about try­ing to find love.”

At the mo­ment, the com­pany is mak­ing Hot Right Now, in which four of the six mod­els who took part in Beauty Queen and Sin­gle join Vinny Hur­rell to re­search life­style trends. It will be broad­cast be­fore Christ­mas. They’re also cast­ing for Mil­lion­aire for sea­son two with Jeremy Clark­son, as well as cast­ing for the sec­ond se­ries of Blind Date with its host, Paul O’grady. They’re also mak­ing Gino’s Win Your Wish List for Chan­nel Five, fea­tur­ing chief Gino D’acampo. And a new se­ries of Par­ents’ Evening is also be­ing shot in Jan­uary.

But along­side all his suc­cess, he’s loyal to his roots and close to his mum and brothers. There was a seven-year gap be­tween Kieran and the fourth son, Martin.

“I’ll al­ways be the kid and they’ve al­ways looked af­ter me, but they’ve never been shy about hard­en­ing me up. My brother Liam used to throw me around but he used to tell me, there’s no-one who’ll hit you as hard as I will.”

He’s al­ways loved tele­vi­sion. “It’s weird when I think about mak­ing Who Wants to be a Mil­l­lion­aire and Blind Date. They’re all the shows we used to watch to­gether as a fam­ily.

“I de­vel­oped a love of quiz shows through all those shows we watched, me sit­ting on the floor of the liv­ing room.”

But de­spite lov­ing the in­dus­try, he knows he’s not a front-of­cam­era per­son. “I freeze or give a weird face and re­ally have a weird, ner­vous re­ac­tion to the cam­era. I don’t know how peo­ple do it.”

He’s hope­ful for the fu­ture and proud of the prow­ess of the in­dus­try in North­ern Ire­land, which has been boosted by shows such as HBO’S Game of Thrones, the fan­tasy se­ries filmed in North­ern Ire­land. “BBC and Chan­nel 4 have both said their spend is go­ing to in­crease and some of that will come to North­ern Ire­land at a point. It’s a good time to be in­volved, but the hard­est thing can be try­ing to find crew. The best crew are al­ways in de­mand but it’s a good prob­lem to have.” But he’s less op­ti­mistic about the im­pact of Brexit. “I haven’t heard any­thing that’s filled me with hap­pi­ness or op­ti­mism. I just don’t know. I don’t think any­body knows. It may well have an ef­fect on our in­dus­try if it goes through. How­ever, cur­rently the way it works in TV is that a good idea is a good idea and ev­ery­body wants it. That’s what keeps it mov­ing. Ev­ery­body wants the next big thing.”

Kieran is a TV lover. “I watch ev­ery­thing and any­thing in my genre, any quiz and any for­mat, just to see whether I like it or not. How well is it made. Who made it? It’s all just in­for­ma­tion gath­er­ing.”

And he thinks the huge pop­u­lar­ity of gen­tle, feel-good pro­grammes like The Great British Bake Off sig­nal that peo­ple want to watch pleas­ant TV.

“Life is pretty hard and you want to see con­tes­tants help­ing each other and think, that’s lovely. The world needs it.”

INTV, a good idea is a good idea and ev­ery­body wants it, ev­ery­body wants to have the next big thing Next week, Small Busi­ness Can fea­tures Daniel Mcglade of Oro­son and Gar­rett O’hare of Flexi Work Space

PETER MOR­RI­SON

Kieran Do­herty, joint man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Stel­lify Me­dia and (above) Gino d’acampo

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