Documentary Producers Weigh The Impact Of ‘Baby Reindeer’ Saga: “It Is A Seminal Moment” — Monte-Carlo TV Festival

An industry debate about the blurred lines between reality and fiction was always going to take in the ongoing situation with Baby Reindeer – and so it was at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival.

A group of factual producers spoke in a Festival conference session entitled “New Narratives for Documentaries: The Blur Between Reality & Fiction.” The conversation soon turned to Richard Gadd’s Netflix series, which is the subject of a $170 million lawsuit in the U.S.

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“It’s amazing for a guy who’s been trying to get his own breakthrough for years, he got it, it just happened in the wrong way,” said veteran British producer Steve Anderson. “It feels like one of those moments where the envelope has just been pushed too much.”

The legal team of Fiona Harvey, the woman identified as being the inspiration for the Martha character in Baby Reindeer, is claiming that the “biggest lie in television history” has been told. Netflix said it will vigorously defend the suit.

Anderson has produced several episodes of BBC current affairs staple Panorama and his Shearwater Media label makes Discovery series Faking It. He is chair of the Monte-Carlo TV Festival’s news and documentary jury this year.

Asked by Deadline about the impact of Baby Reindeer at an industry level he said: “I can predict with absolute certainty that everybody now will be required to go on compliance courses to make sure that this never happens again. I think it’s a seminal moment.

“Compliance departments all over the industry will be being strengthened as a result, that’s probably the most immediate impact.”

That chimes with Deadline’s recent scoop about the BBC being inundated with compliance questions from producers concerned about straying into dangerous territory.

Much of the discussion around Baby Reindeer hinges upon wording used in the opening credits claiming what follows is a true story — wording at the end of the show says elements have been fictionalized.

Tom Jennings is co-founder of U.S.-based docs house 1895 Films, which has produced Apollo: Missions to the Moon and In Their Own Words. At Monte-Carlo, he spoke about broadcaster and streamer desire to lean in to true stories and to badge work accordingly.

“There’s this great pressure from network executives and streamers to say: ‘This is a true story, based on actual facts.’ They want that label at the top. I suggested once: ‘Most of what you’re about to see is 100% true.’ They didn’t like it, they wanted: ‘This is a true story.’”

“I think one of the reasons why they want that to be there is that reality has a special vibe,” added Chiara Avesani, a Director and Journalist at Italian pubcaster RAI and who was on the Monte-Carlo panel. “When you feel that you’re watching something that really happened, it’s more electrifying.”

Amid the legal proceedings, Anderson said “there is a long and very proud tradition of mixing drama and factual,” citing the likes of Cathy Come Home and more recently, Mr Bates vs The Post Office. “These are amazing, big, stories that drama helped to bring to a wider audience without trying to fool the public.

“[Baby Reindeer] will have to concentrate everybody’s mind, but hopefully won’t kill off the drama documentary because I think it’s got a huge place in television.”

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