Rising to the challenge

Following the UK success of September Films' magic-focused gameshow format Penn & Teller: Fool Us, the firm's creative director Sheldon Lazarus has left the company to form a new venture in partnership with September's parent DCD Media.
November 1, 2011

Following the UK success of September Films’ magic-focused gameshow format Penn & Teller: Fool Us, the firm’s creative director Sheldon Lazarus has left the company to form a new venture in partnership with September’s parent DCD Media.

Rize will be headquartered in London with a production office in Los Angeles, and will focus on producing factual, fact ent and reality programming for the international market.

The firm will attempt to build upon what Lazarus describes as “the Penn & Teller model,” taking American onscreen talent over to the UK to produce a short-run series, then selling the format of that series back into the States.

Lazarus names the model for American magicians Penn Jillette and Teller, who teamed up with September Films to make a gameshow pilot, Fool Us, for UK terrestrial ITV1 at the start of the year.

Its success prompted an eight-episode season order for the show. DCD is now looking to produce a Russian version of the format.

Crucially, the magicians get a share of the show’s IP – something that would not happen if the first commission came from a U.S. network.

“If we get a piece of American talent on UK TV, that talent has got rights,” Lazarus tells realscreen. “That’s the model we want to follow. The American non-fiction market is where the money is.”

In addition to Fool Us, Lazarus’s track record includes exec producing U.S. net A&E’s reality series Billy the Exterminator and TLC’s Mall Cops: Mall of America, as well as BBC1′s Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab.

As creative director of the new venture, he will split his time between the West Coast and the UK, and will oversee a staff that is currently in the process of being assembled.

“We’re recruiting in LA and putting a development team together,” Lazarus says. “We’ll probably have a team of about 20 split between LA and London.”

Rize is represented stateside by CAA, and DCD owns a stake in the new indie.

“I know them, they’ve got a good infrastructure, and a good presence in LA,” says Lazarus of the parent company.

For DCD Media’s part, CEO David Green says that Rize “fits perfectly with our strategy of taking advantage of opportunities present on both side of the Atlantic, and furthers the group’s aim to strengthen our position in the non-fiction market.”

With Lazarus leaving September Films, the indie has hired Simon Broadley – previously head of development at BBC Birmingham – to take on the newly created role of head of development.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.