SBS sells format for immigration series to U.S.

BBC America has signed a format deal with SBS Australia for the controversial series Go Back To Where You Came From, which sparked heated debate in the media when it aired in Australia last year.
March 14, 2012

Australian broadcaster SBS has signed a format agreement with BBC America and several other international broadcasters for a documentary series about a group Australians who have their preconceived notions about refugees and asylum seekers challenged by being sent abroad.

Produced by Cordell Jigsaw Productions, Go Back To Where You Came From (4 x 60-minutes) followed six people as they spent 25 days in situations typically experienced by refugees, such as immigration raids, refugee camps and slums in Africa and the Middle East, boarding leaky boats to cross an ocean and going about daily life in war-torn countries such as Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The show sparked heated debate online and in newspaper op-ed pages after it began airing in Australia last year.

“It’s rare for a television format to be able to break new ground using an issue that’s a political hot button worldwide,” said SBS MD Michael Ebeid. “The high level of interest from both international broadcasters and production companies is testament to the compelling nature of the format and the fertile ground it offers to tap into local sentiments about refugees and asylum seekers.”

The deal with BBC America marks the first time SBS has signed a format agreement with a U.S. broadcaster. The network has also inked format deals with TV2 Denmark and Keshet Broadcasting in Israel. Tuvalu Media (Sony Pictures Entertainment), Studio Hamburg DocLights, Snowman Productions and Curious Pictures have optioned the rights to do local versions of the series in the Netherlands, Germany and South Africa, respectively.

Go Back proved important issues don’t have to be dull television,” said Cordell Jigsaw’s Michael Cordell. “We’re proud the series became part of the national debate on asylum seekers and is now on its way to becoming part of the international debate. We’re also cock-a-hoop about the format sales. Instead of being a dumping ground for overseas formats, for once, an Australian format is being exported to the rest of the world. Hopefully it will help balance our cultural terms of trade.”

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.