RS West ’16: What’s flying for formats

Dating, game show and reality formats are trending with international buyers, according to a panel of sellers at this year's Realscreen West on Friday (June 10).
June 13, 2016

Dating, game show and reality formats are trending with international buyers, according to a panel of sellers at this year’s Realscreen West on Friday (June 10).

With budgets in a tight squeeze and tentpole hits few and far between, network buyers are in need of high-volume, low-cost programming to fill slots and companies from territories not typically known as format originators – such as Spain and Italy – are increasingly rising to meet that challenge.

During the panel, “Formats: What’s Working Where, and Why?” Pact US president David Lyle moderated a series of case studies about recent international titles such as My Mom Cooks Better Than Yours, This Time Next Year, Kiss Bang Love and Undressed.

It’s always been a challenge for programming to cut through in the United States, but that hasn’t always been the case in Europe until recently, Red Arrow Entertainment Group chief creative officer Michael Schmidt told delegates.

“You can’t be that mean anymore,” he said, noting that Red Arrow’s breakout social experiment, Married at First Sight, continues to do well because of its air of niceness. “People tune in to hate it and they watch it and fall in love with it. ‘What is the anti-Bachelor?‘ was the question we asked in our development sessions.”

To that end, FremantleMedia International EVP of global acquisitions and development Vasha Wallace showcased the format My Mom Cooks Better Than Yours, a comedic culinary game show in which frazzled adults prepare a meal as their discerning mothers stand nearby and bark orders.

Created by Madrid-based Mandarina, the super indie picked up the show two years ago and has since sold it in more than 20 territories globally. The studio-set show is fast-paced and can be produced quickly and most networks air it daily in either daytime or early evening slots.

Another feel-good hot seller has been Twofour’s This Time Next Year, which has been picked up in 27 territories before the London-based indie’s home version has even aired (ITV has ordered six episodes). Nine versions are in production and 18 others have the format under option.

The idea for the series came from research that showed audiences are tuning in for the beginning and the end episodes of transformational series, but skipping the journey in between.

This Time Next Year rearranges that narrative arc by having a contestant outline a goal they want to achieve – such as losing weight, meeting a partner or having a baby – by “this time next year.” After chatting with a host, they walk through a door and then reappear moments later through another door to explain how they achieved that goal – or didn’t.

To pull off the concept, production takes place over 12 months during which contestants self-shoot moments relevant to their goals and producers check in weekly to make sure they are on track.

“This show literally sold itself off a sentence to everyone in the room,” explained Twofour Group chief executive Melanie Leach. “We thought, why don’t we be bold and skip the middle bit because people aren’t interested in the journey anymore.”

Rearranged narratives were also common threads in two dating formats presented during the panel. Banijay Group’s social experiment Undressed – recently profiled by realscreen – puts two strangers in a studio with a bed and asks them to get undressed before they chat and get to know each other.

Meanwhile, Red Arrow’s Kiss Bang Love is a social experiment from the creators of Married At First Sight, Copenhagen-based Snowman Productions, which begins with a blindfolded contestant kissing a group of single people and progressing to two nights in a luxury hotel room. The idea is based on research that shows the average person kisses 15 people and has at least two one-night stands before falling in love.

Red Arrow sold the show to nine outlets based off a sizzle originally posted on YouTube and has since launched the series in Denmark, Germany and Australia.

“It’s about building a relationship and finding a new way into it,” explained Schmidt, adding that formats usually hit their stride after a few adaptations have gone to air. “We tweak the hook and we tweak the tonality to find it. It’s not about the first launch – it’s the first three launches.”

An outlier on the panel was A&E’s comparatively hard-hitting 60 Days In, a hit for the network in the United States, but a series that requires more legwork from a production perspective. The program follows a group of civilians who go undercover in an Indiana jail to help the local sheriff clamp down on corruption and criminal activity.

A+E Networks’ head of formats, international programming and production Hayley Babcock said that although the show is on-trend in that it is based on a real premise, adapting it hinges on a country having a prison system prone to unseemly behavior.

“You have to have a penal system that is having problems,” she said, adding that the concept could also work in an immigration center or similar facility.

In addition to the sensitive nature of the material, the production is labor-intensive and requires both documentary footage and fixed-rig footage. For example, the producers at Lucky 8 recorded two petabytes of audio for the A&E version.

“They recorded more audio than the entire iTunes library,” said Babcock.

Two territories have optioned the show, with Pulse Films optioning it in the UK, but series orders hinge on finding a suitable prison, jail or facility.

“It’s a slow burn,” she said. “I believe that season two in the U.S. is going to prove to a lot of producers that this is not a one-trick pony.”

(From left to right: Pact US’s David Lyle; FremantleMedia International’s Vasha Wallace; Red Arrow’s Michael Schmidt; A+E Networks’ Hayley Babcock; Twofour’s Melanie Leach; Banijay Group’s Grant Ross. Photo by Nelson Blanton)

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.