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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

‘The Unscripted Entertainment Vine’ from Nat Geo Channels CEO David Lyle

A highlight of the AIDC Conference in Adelaide was the ‘Big Chart’ presented by Nat Geo Channels CEO David Lyle in his keynote.


His graphic addresses the evolving landscape of nonfiction television entertainment. It shows how formats and sub-genres are being forever blended and hybridized into new categories.

When we caught up with David Lyle after AIDC, he added:

  • “What I have tried to do is demonstrate how shows and sub genres “grow” out of one another and like a climbing rose twist and turn before blooming anew.”
  • “As a chart it really has only a horizontal axis, from left (least constructed) to right (most constructed).”
  • “I added Sitcoms and Dramas (and game shows) on the extreme right to reveal, if you will, how unconstructed things like documentaries and current affairs stories have moved towards the more constructed.”
  • “The show examples that appear as leaves are a strange mixture of US, Australian and occasional British titles.”
  • “There are, as I look at it again, some bloopers… How Jungle Gold became a Celeb Docusoap or House got to be next to Only Way is Essex is a mystery. What Martha Stewart is doing as a Game show is equally bizarre.”
  • “But I would encourage your readers to add and subtract (and even move around) some of the flowers/sub genres or leaves/shows.”

The Bio

BTW,  David Lyle shared his very individual career path under my questioning before launching into his keynote address. It proves the rule that TV execs come from all places and backgrounds.

The cv highlights that most interested the Adelaide audience were:

  • As a mere schoolboy at Sydney’s Riverview College, Lyle fudged his age and wrote for The Mavis Bramston Show.
  • Mavis was an important precursor to the dramatic explosion in the ‘Seventies in Aussie theatre, television, live comedy and feature films.
  • This sudden cultural revival overthrew several decades of the notorious ‘cultural cringe’ when Australians had rejected their own performing arts – even their own spoken accent – as inherently inferior to their British and American counterparts.
  • Writing for Mavis as a Sydney schoolboy was definitely surfing the first break.
  • Lyle went on study geology at university.
  • After working in minerals exploration and being offered a choice between destinations like Lesotho and Papua New Guinea, he returned to his Gunston roots and scored a job writing for a Sydney TV network.


  • Being from Melbourne, I’d say that was a real tough call: a prospector’s camp in the Lesotho bush versus writing for a commercial television outfit in Sydney. 


  • With Sue Mathews, I wrote about the glorious revival of the Aussie film industry in “American Dreams: Australian Movies” (Currency Press, Sydney). Ask me for a copy.


e-Publications for Executives and Producers

Sweet Spots: U.S. Factual Networks’ Production Cost Benchmarks
What do U.S. networks pay for unscripted and documentary programs? Production Cost Benchmarks for 29 U.S. Networks. Documentary and Reality. Plus key contacts. Includes a private consultation. Read more here.

International Documentary Buyers’ Guide
An invaluable resource for producers who are seeking international partners. Profiles 37 channels and slots in 17 countries. Includes the filters and key contacts. Created for Hot Docs. Read more here.

Production Budget Template for a Documentary Special
Our comprehensive production budget package and schedule saves producers time and uncertainty by immediately establishing professional credibility with network production managers. Developed by veteran budget consultant Elizabeth Ventura.  Read more here.

Diary of a U.S. Reality Network Program Development Executive
Veteran network executive and producer Stephen Harris describes how U.S. networks take pitches and make decisions to commission unscripted programs. Read more here.

The Rise & Rise of ‘Pawn Stars’ and Leftfield Pictures
Analysis of the key success factors for History Channel’s breakout hit show and the hot production company that created it. Read more here.

Crowd-funding for Documentaries – Case Study: Kickstarter & Plimpton!
Learn the secrets of Kickstarter from a successful documentary fundraising campaign. What is the expected payoff?  How much work is involved? Read more here.

China’s Documentary Market: Development, Coproduction and Sales
How to approach the expanding Chinese nonfiction market. Our interview-based white paper provides valuable data and key contacts and more. Read more here.


Speaking Engagements

Saturday, April 6, Cannes

Do’s & Don’ts of Getting the Right Partners on Board

David Royle, EVP Programming and Production, Smithsonian Networks, USA
Peter Hamilton, Founder, Editor & Publisher,, USA.
Twitter: @doctvdotcom


Tom Jennings, Executive Producer & Founder, 1895 Films, USA @1895films
David Royle, EVP Programming and Production, Smithsonian Networks, USA
Moderator: Peter Hamilton