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