Bob Shennan, BBC Director of Music, Discusses Adele's Beeb-Exclusive TV Comeback

Courtesy of VEVO
Adele in the video for "Hello."

Due to be broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on Friday 20 November, the same day as the launch of her third studio album 25, Adele -- Live at the BBC marks the all-conquering British singer’s first television appearance since she performed “Skyfall” at the Academy Awards back in February 2013.

Filmed in London on November 2, the world exclusive hour-long show will premiere live performances of tracks from Adele’s hugely-anticipated third album, as well as favourites from her back catalogue and a candid interview with host Graham Norton about her life and career.

Although Adele -- Live at the BBC will not be transmitted in the United States due to separate agreements with U.S. broadcasters, the programme has been syndicated by BBC Worldwide to France (France2), Australia (Nine Network), New Zealand (TV3), Ireland (RTE), Finland (YLE), Norway (NRK), Sweden (SVT), Belgium (VRT), Italy (Mediaset) and Spain (Canal+), Canada (CTV/VRAK) and Netherlands (NPO3), where it has been renamed Adele -- Live in London.

Ahead of the broadcast, Billboard spoke to BBC director of music Bob Shennan to discuss the background to landing and devising a world exclusive with arguably the most in-demand artist on the planet. “Usually someone gets a coup somewhere along the line,” he says. “I was just really pleased that, in this case, it was the BBC.”   
 
Billboard: Can you discuss the background to this broadcast?

Bob Shennan: It’s been a long gestation process. We started talking to Adele’s representatives before we actually knew that she was making a comeback and had a new album. Nobody definitely knew at that point. It’s probably been getting on for six months of conversations. Knowing just how important and popular she is to our audience, we were really keen to do something different and special with such an important U.K. artist. It’s a celebration of Adele and her phenomenal talents. It will make people smile. It will make them laugh and the music is so beautiful, it will really move people.

What was the original approach to her team?

We talked initially about the idea of doing a focus program on her and her catalog of music. The thing about Adele is that she’s got this fantastic personality. She’s very charismatic and interesting, so we wanted to focus on her and make it something about her personality as well as her music. We always thought of it as a single artist celebration.  

Few artists can command such a prime time slot to launch their album.

In terms of contemporary artists this is a bit of a departure for us, but we always knew that when Adele resurfaced and was performing again there would be a massive amount of interest in her. We knew that it would probably make her the biggest music talent on the planet and we wanted to be ahead of the game and make sure that her first big show was with the BBC. Usually someone gets a coup somewhere along the line -- I was just really pleased that, in this case, it was the BBC.  

How involved was Adele in the show’s production?

She was very involved in the process. She was very interested in how it was put together.  The overarching shape and tone of the program has been put together by [executive producer] Guy Freeman, and obviously Adele has been party to those conversations about the creative output. It’s been really important that she’s been comfortable with what we were proposing all along. It’s been a very collaborative process.

Did the idea to broadcast the show on the day of album release originate from Adele’s camp or yours?

Actually, in terms of the timing of it, there were two factors. Children in Need [The BBC’s annual fundraising charity event, which took place Nov. 13] meant we couldn’t go earlier. We could have waited, but then we wouldn’t have been bringing this first to British audiences on the BBC. The scheduling meant that we were really between a rock and a hard place. So it’s really a case of us wanting to make sure that before any big American shows, Adele’s comeback is seen first by audiences on the BBC and in the U.K. It feels right that we should do that.  

Would you like to do more of these single artist type TV broadcasts in the future?
 
I would like to think that this is something that we could look at doing again in the future. But when you have set the bar as high as we have with Adele, who is unequivocally the most sought after and zeitgeist performer of the moment, it’s not something that we could repeat terribly often. But I do think it’s a potential format that we could return to with other major artists that we know our audiences are going to want to spend some time with.

The 2015 Mercury Prize takes place on the same night as the Adele broadcast. With this year marking the return of the awards show to BBC television and radio after a three-year absence, is there not a danger that Adele’s TV comeback will overshadow your coverage of the Mercury Prize?

We were really pleased when [the Mercury Prize organizers] came to see us again and we were thinking about the ways in which we could cover the event in a pan BBC sense, across our different platforms. So we’re covering the Mercury Prize across Radio 1, 6 Music and [TV station] BBC Four. What better springboard than when we finish the Adele program to offer audiences the chance to go and watch this year’s Mercury Prize live on BBC Four? It’s a great fit and it’s a big night for music. This is an exciting time for music on BBC television. A lot of people for a long time have talked about music having been underplayed by the BBC, but when you look at what we’re doing on Friday night with Adele on BBC One, immediately followed by the Mercury Prize on BBC Four and [radio station] 6 Music, it really shows the range of the BBC’s music offering.

What BBC Music initiatives can we expect to see in 2016?

There’s some big moments coming up and we’re building a bit of momentum. You should see the Adele program as a sign of our intent. The BBC is the most important broadcast partner to the U.K. music industry and music is one of the most important things that the BBC reflects across all of its services. We probably originate more content on an annual basis than any other broadcaster in the U.K. Our teams are world class at doing music television, but I know that what we need to do is bring it to the maximum number of people. You can view what we’re doing with Adele as an early movement in that direction.


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