Formats Unpacked: The And
How an Emmy Award winning interactive series became a much copied TV and YouTube format
Thanks again for clicking on this Formats Unpacked newsletter - it means a lot. Thanks for all your suggestions too. I love being introduced to formats that are watched by millions but have somehow escaped my attention.
Today’s unpacking comes from Katie Connelly, a freelance Digital Producer. Katie works for The Space helping arts and cultural organisations create digital content to find new audiences. She previously worked for the BBC as part of the digital guerrillas content innovation group, and BBC Three. Over to Katie…
What’s it called?
What’s the format?
Two people with some kind of emotional connection sit facing each other. In front of them are a bunch of cards with questions on, face down. They pick up a card from the table and read the question to the person they face who must answer honestly.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
I was trying to come up with a cleverer way to name this format than ‘two people sit face-to-face and interview each other’, but that’s exactly what Emmy-award winning online documentary series The And is. Produced by US-based creative studio The Skin Deep and launched more than five years ago, it’s possible this was one of the first inceptions of this format, now a familiar and popular style of social content used by broadcasters and publishers.
The magic here is removing the traditional interviewer-off-camera. Two people with an emotional connection are put face-to-face; given probing, often difficult questions, and then left to answer them. There are no helpful prompts, no moving on if an answer doesn’t come straight away. Awkward questions are asked, and we endure every second of cringe-inducing silence that follows.
I first came across The And via exes Ali and Andrew: Why Did You Cheat On Me, published by Glamour magazine. It opens with Ali awkwardly laugh-questioning: “why did you cheat on me so many times?”. The interview is an uncomfortable 7-minute watch, as Andrew first denies then eventually admits the extent of his infidelities, without showing the remorse we feel Ali deserves. There is no happy, easy conclusion to their reunion. It has had more than 18 million views on YouTube.
Making someone’s closest partner, ex, friend or relative become their interviewer is a clever trick - it’s much harder to lie, sugar-coat or bluff when being looked directly in the face by someone who knows you, as opposed to an unknown interviewer from a production company. Watching feels like being in a viewing gallery for relationship counselling.
The And uses bare-bones editing to enhance this effect: long pauses, shared laughing fits, people going off on tangents and the lack of backing music keep the exchanges as fly-on-the-wall as possible. It also makes for a format that shines on social media where compelling human stories - without the padding of long intros, music or heavy editing - are king. The style always places people’s faces, expressions and words front and centre.
Arguably the most successful participants in the series are the follow-ups: we meet The And’s star couple, Ben and Sidra, several times over the years: first in a long-term relationship; then becoming parents, then navigating rocky early parenthood and trying to save their relationship. Interviews have included couples, exes, parents and children, even siblings raised on separate continents.
My favourite episode is I Don't Want to Say Goodbye - Giulia & Elijah where two high school students talk about their impending break up after graduation and remind us how emotionally articulate 17-year-olds can be.
Thanks Katie. I’m now a fan.
We talked about the visual language of these ‘two people sit face to face and interview each other’ formats in a Storythings Show and Tell meeting recently. I was aware they are a thing, but didn’t appreciate how much of a thing until someone in the team declared “It’s the only thing I watch on YouTube”. It was interesting to see how The And has developed from being a YouTube format about exploring human connection in the digital age to becoming a card game, an app, and a bunch of interactive experiences.
If you have thoughts send them over. And let me know if you’d like to contribute. More unpacking next Wednesday.
Thanks for reading.