Development meetings are always very lively at Urbania Media. It’s how the team unravels what their next great idea will be among numerous possibilities. Philippe Lamarre, producer and founder of Urbania, presented a very clear plan to his colleagues for their latest project: “We will create a TV show about sex!”
It was quite an unusual proposition. ICI Explora network, owned by the CBC, is a specialty television service mainly devoted to science and knowledge. Therefore, the question became how to present this “animal” topic in a “cerebral” manner? Also, given the sensitivity of the theme and what it can evoke in some viewers, how to avoid crossing the line? In a universe where a small minority of concepts ever turn into a broadcast, this idea could have easily been scrapped. However, unconventional ideas are exactly what the Urbania team thrives on.
Lili Boisvert interviewing
Already at the end of its second season, Sexplora, a television and web magazine that talks openly about sexuality, quickly became one of the hit shows on ICI Explora. For producer Annie Bourdeau, the success of the show is linked to how this information is presented: “We deal with a serious topic but in an irreverent tone. It means that for us, it is essential to have rigor and relevance in the subject, while keeping a touch of humor. For example, we explain complex notions using a simple cartoon, with bright colors, to make the information more accessible and friendlier.” Marylène Fortier, content producer, agrees: “The show is about sexuality in the context of science. When you apply Urbania’s signature to it, with its young, bold and inquisitive tone, it works perfectly. From the beginning, the ratings were very good.” Indeed, the viewers responded well - to the point that after the first season of six episodes, the network continued the adventure for a second season of 10 episodes. “It's a good sign because, with specialty networks, coming back for a second season is not a given,” says Marylène.
Producers Annie Bourdeau and Marylène Fortier
Before applying this playful format to scientific content, the team had to start by narrowing down topics. As Annie Bourdeau explains: “During the period of development, when we had to choose the topics for each episode, we did 350 pages of preliminary research! We realized that talking about sexuality can be very broad! It was necessary to narrow the themes.” Marylène Fortier also insists that successfully pinpointing the guidelines for each episode was the main challenge of the show: “Each episode is conceived as a quest to answer an initial question on a specific topic. This year, topics range from domination, to abstinence, from menopause-andropause to pornography. And we still have content to make several more seasons!”
While it was necessary to find the right tone and pinpoint topics, it was also necessary to choose the right person to carry this show. The producer remembers: “Initially, we had a cast of comedians to host Sexplora, but we fell a lot into self-deprecation and the goal was not to laugh at sex. We wanted to maintain some rigor, so we thought of sexologists, but because they are part of a professional order, some of them censored themselves a great deal. Finally, we thought of journalists, like Lili Boisvert. She already had a blog about sexuality, so she had previously developed this niche and reflected on all sorts of issues that are dealt with in the series. She had the ‘light yet serious’ tone we were looking for. The broadcaster quickly chose her.” The director also reflects the rigor that was essential to the success of the show. “Arnaud Bouquet is very demanding with himself, both in terms of content and production,” adds Annie Bourdeau.
Lili Boisvert meeting the public
Once all the ingredients were assembled, they had to decide on their platform approach. For Marylène Fortier, the web is not separate from television but rather part of the equation: “We developed topics, explored everything that was interesting in terms of content, experts, testimonies... then, we said: which platform best serves each? For us, the web is not a second platform, it is part of an ecosystem.”
The producers have great pride in the anti-conformist approach of Urbania: “In general, we present non-standard characters in our media. It's part of our values, of what we are,” says Marylène Fortier. “We find this in Sexplora too and it's always done with tremendous respect. We are really interested in people, in colorful characters and their universe. We’ve had fascinating encounters.” For the show, it was necessary to find people who live different sexualities and who were ready to testify on camera. For example, “we met a transsexual woman, born a male, who was a former soldier in the Canadian army, and who chose chastity. Her life story is exceptional. It was a very moving interview and it takes a very respectful team, which has great sensitivity, listening abilities and compassion.”
Ultimately, beyond shocking themes like fetishism or STDs, open-mindedness may be the true legacy of a program like Sexplora. “You feel like you are contributing to a dialogue, to an advancement in the way people think. Our work is only a small drop in the ocean but we hope to help change mentalities on taboo issues.” It teaches us that being open about intimate issues is possible, after all.