Formats Unpacked: Our Five Favourite Formats

To celebrate two years of Formats Unpacked we've compiled our favourite formats

Hi All,

Formats Unpacked is two years old! Thanks to all of you for reading, subscribing and making it all worthwhile. I’ve said it many times, writing this is an absolute joy. I get to find out why you love certain formats. I get introduced to new formats I didn’t know about. And I’m frequently reminded why formats from the past were so special.

This week we’re going to take a break from the norm. Last year, to celebrate our first birthday, I wrote 10 Things I Learned About Brilliant Formats from Formats Unpacked. I use those learnings on a weekly basis whilst developing formats for ourselves or running Format Development Workshops with clients.

This year I’ve asked some of the team at Storythings to share their five favourite formats. Looking through the lists, it’s really nice to see that the goal I set of covering a broad range of formats has definitely been achieved. I’d like to see how far we can push that in the next 12 months. What’s missing? Let me know in the comments.

OK. Over to the team…

Matt Locke’s Top 5 Formats:

  1. The Up Series -  An epic format that tells the story of UK history and society through following the lives of ordinary people over decades.

  2. One on One - This is the reverse of Up, making celebrity feel mundane through 101 stories of random connections.

  3. You Suck At Photoshop - One of the first times a digitally-native format was subverted for a fictional character.

  4. The Repair Shop - Because we always need to remember that the heart of every good format is human stories and emotion.

  5. Cracking The Cryptic - Sometimes formats designed for niche communities can break out, because they reveal the sheer joy in being really, really, good at something.

Anjali Ramachandran’s Top 5 Formats

  1. Grand Designs - Because watching ambitious homes being built brick by brick as people wrestle with money running out or having a baby at the same time will never not be interesting, if a bit nail-biting

  2. Twenty20 Cricket - Almost everyone I know from India is a cricket aficionado (my brother-in-law is in fact a cricket journalist), but I never found the game particularly interesting. Twenty20 cricket changed that for me and millions of others around the world.

  3. Lunch with FT - One of my favourite things about the FT, and there's a lot I like about it. That's saying something.

  4. Your Home Made Perfect - I only recently realised we covered this in Formats Unpacked in 2020, because I only got hooked onto it this year! VR and homes (bit of a pattern here..!) somehow is a fascinating combination!

  5. Battle Royale - Watched the original as a teenager (probably too young?!), then Squid Game came out. Again, strangely fascinating and nail-biting.

Emma Greengrass’ Top 5 Formats

  1. Desert Island Discs - All about the life stories strumming around a choice of records.

  2. Humans of New York - Direct to camera, short and sweet, the city made intimate.

  3. History of the World in 100 Objects - How a relationship to objects made time travel across 2 million years possible.

  4. Open Door - Who doesn't want to visit houses you'd never usually see inside, especially when 'locked down' in your own.

  5. Wordle - Everything I needed to know in order to talk to my family and friends about it!

Hugh Garry’s Top 5 Formats

  1. Desert Island Discs - Still going strong after 80 years and still using music choices as emotional tin openers.

  2. Billie Eilish: Same Interview One Year Apart - like the Up Series for people who can’t go 7 years between episodes.

  3. Big Brother - Whether you like it or not, it produced a new breed of celebrity and a million other formats desperate to provide TV space for them.

  4. The Top 40 Singles Chart - What started as a magazine list format turned into a radio show, a TV show, and speeded up youth culture in the 1950s and 60s.

  5. Breaking News Memes - The first draft of history is memes.

Darren Garrett’s Top 5 Formats

  1. Live Saturday Morning Kids Shows (not including Noel Edmunds Swap Shop) - Tiswas, SMTV, and even Going Live had their moments (Eliot Fletcher to 5 Star “Why are you so [expletive] crap?”). Live anarchy every Saturday Morning. And Wonky Donkey.

  2. The Twilight Zone and anthology series in general - If you don’t like it it's only 24 minutes, it's a new idea every week, and what other format allows writers to explore weird head bending concepts with such regularity?

  3. The Fast Show - I’m not a comedy writer but I suspect that coming top with a sketch show that lasts on laughs is a tough proposition. So while many have come and gone the Fast Show is possibly the best sketch show of all time?

  4. IF WE DON'T, REMEMBER ME - Microscopic slices from movies turned into loops that highlight the tiny moments that build the magic, beauty, and art of cinema.

  5. B-sides - Do you miss B-sides? Often dismissed as filler rather than killer but some of my favourite albums are B-side compilations. The B-side of Standing on a Beach (cassette only) by The Cure and Barbed Wire Kisses by Jesus and Mary Chain contain more than their fair share of B-side bangers.

Thanks to the team and all our contributors over the last couple of years. I couldn’t do this without you. Drop me a line if you’d like to contribute by writing about one of your favourite formats. Or simply leave your Top 5 in the comments below.

Back to the regular format next week.


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