»We’ve had a show on the air every year for 35 years.«

Stephanie Noonan Drachkovitch, Rasha Drachkovitch

44 Blue Productions joined the Red Arrow family in July 2016 and now celebrates its 35th birthday. Founded by Rasha Drachkovitch and Stephanie Noonan Drachkovitch, 44 Blue is an award-winning producer whose series have aired on over 20 networks and in more than 120 countries worldwide. Currently, the company has over 20 projects in active production. In our Insights interview, Stephanie and Rasha look back on the last three decades and reveal their plans for the future.
As you celebrate 35 years in the business - how did you start 44 Blue Productions?

Rasha: Steph and I started 44 Blue in June 1984 from Steph’s apartment. Our first syndicated series – “Bob Uecker’s Wacky World of Sports” – was meant to be a one-off special but it did so well that the buyer ordered a bunch more. We knew how to produce a TV show but starting a company was new to us: we needed to hire staff, print business cards and, most importantly, come up with a company name. We settled on 44 Blue – a good luck football play from my High School playing days… and that was the beginning of the company!

What are your proudest achievements? And what’s the secret to longevity in this business?
“There’s something about telling stories of the extreme human condition that is so powerful. Giving voice to the voiceless is extremely rewarding.”

Rasha: I’m so proud that we’ve had a show on the air every year for 35 years. In an ever-changing market place, we’ve been able to keep adapting and find new ways to sell content.

Stephanie: To me one of our proudest achievements is that we have so many people that have been with us for many years, some are even entering their second decade with us. It helps us make programming that reflects everybody’s values and passions. We’re lucky to wake up every day and get to do what we do: we get to jump into so many different worlds, meet so many different people and tell so many stories. That comes with a responsibility to do it with integrity, and it’s the people on our team that help make that happen.

Your new series Jailbirds has been very well received – becoming the No.1 reality show on Netflix UK & Ireland (the only Netflix region to releases stats) within its first week. How did the show come about?

Rasha: We’ve produced more shows in the prison space than any other production company on the planet. I like to joke that someone from 44 Blue is usually in prison every day – but that’s a good thing! “Jailbirds” came out of our 20-year run producing MSNBC’s “Lockup”. Netflix execs were big fans of the series, and this space is extremely popular on their platform. So, it’s Lockup 2.0. We’d filmed in several women’s jails and prisons over the years, and always toyed with the idea of creating a real-life version of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”. Once we were able to secure access to Sacramento County Jail, we embedded a crew of five there for five months capturing the lives of ten inmates. And the audience feedback – and stats from Netflix – have been amazing. We hope to produce many more episodes in the near future.

You have several high-profile talent partnerships including Dick Wolf, Khloé Kardashian, Jessica Biel, Viola Davis, the Wahlberg family and Whoopi Goldberg. Is talent key to getting commissions now?

Stephanie: Talent is definitely an important element in the creative but it has to be the right talent and the right project. You can’t just tack on talent gratuitously, if there’s no organic or authentic connection and involvement. We’ve been fortunate in being able to attract high profile talent who want to move into the nonfiction space, have stories to tell, and are collaborative and hands-on. We worked really closely together with Dwayne “The Rock” when we did “Rock and a Hard Place” with him; and we’ve done two series with Whoopi Goldberg – she watches every cut and looks at every outline… But what’s really great is that they also all trust us as experts in the genre. We always try to treat those relationships with a lot of care and to be truly collaborative because we learn as much from them as they learn from us.

You set up your digital studio OVRTure in 2015 - can you give us an update?

Rasha: OVRTure is our innovation lab. It launched in 2015 as a virtual reality studio but as we were building it, we discovered other opportunities in short form video and branded content, so we broadened its mission. OVRTure is about staying a step ahead, keeping abreast of emerging platforms and creating content for them. We still do 360 and have those capabilities but mobile first and audio are our focuses right now. We’ve launched a podcast initiative, creating original content and building properties around our IP, as well as looking for IP that we can launch in podcast format that

“We enjoy working in the premium doc space and are hoping to make even more inroads in that field.”
What is your all-time favorite 44 Blue show?

Rasha: It’s hard to pick one; “Pit Bulls & Parolees” has been in production for over ten years on Animal Planet, “Wahlburgers” took us around the world and earned 44 Blue two Emmy nominations for best reality series… But for me, it has to be “Lockup”. There’s something about telling stories of the extreme human condition that is so powerful. Giving voice to the voiceless is extremely rewarding.

What are your plans for the future?

Stephanie: Following on from the success of “First Responders Live”, we’d love to continue to develop and launch series in the broadcast space. We’d also like to do a big entertainment format for one of the streaming platforms, that would be a great genre to add to our portfolio. We enjoy working in the premium doc space and are hoping to make even more inroads in that field; we’ve currently got four on the slate that we’re taking out to the marketplace.

Rasha: It’s a wild, brand new world out there that’s evolving every day, and it’s always exciting to sell to a new platform. We’re just really fortunate to be doing what we’re doing and doing it with Red Arrow and the wonderful folks who we’ve been in partnership with for three years now. So to many, many more years and more birthdays.