How to make great TV according to Louis Theroux

How to make great TV according to Louis Theroux

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Louis Theroux (Credit: BBC)
Louis Theroux (Credit: BBC)

You don’t need to be a ‘traditional’ TV star to make a career in television. Look at Louis Theroux.

“I was not a conventional presence,” says the documentary maker, who is now entering his 24th year in television with over 50 films under his belt.

His opportunity came in 1994, when he joined Michael Moore’s series TV Nation. “I went into the interview with Michael saying ‘I’ll do anything’ and I genuinely meant it: writing researching or doing anything.”

That is his first tip for tomorrow’s Therouxs: focus on making good TV.

“Let’s say you want to be a documentary presenter, you don’t go in saying ‘I really want to be on TV’. It comes across a little bit overweening. Actually what you want to do is make great TV shows.”

Louis’ opportunity came when he was sent to meet apocalyptic cults to get a date for the end of the world.


Despite his inexperience and nerves, he believes it was his curiosity that made the interviews work. “I thought, maybe if I’m curious and I just want to meet these people and… talk to them, maybe that will carry me through this.”

That curiosity is the backbone of his documentaries – however, he is quick to add, you must not forget about the audience.

“I am curious about the world, but I am also not out there just to scratch my own itch of curiosity. These things need to work in concert: the needs of the subject, my own curiosity, and the sense of getting a story that we can tell in an engaging way onscreen.”

Most important, he says, is building a relationship with your interviewee. “It’s not just getting your questions answered,” he insists. The interviewer needs to create a subtext of goodwill and trust, and offer the subjects a sense that they are being listened to.

“You can make these things sound really complicated, but in the end it is just a case of trying to be a relatively nice guy while getting the questions answered.”


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