Looking forward: Endemol Shine USA’s Eden Gaha

The mega-producer's president of unscripted discusses new projects, what he wants to see on network primetime and strategies for shopping reality to VOD platforms.
January 30, 2016

A new iteration of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and a competition series about spelling bees are among the titles Endemol Shine North America will be unveiling in 2016.

The year-old mega-producer is hoping the Endemol Shine Australia-developed Spelling Star and the Endemol Beyond USA-developed Blank Spaces will result in the kind of reality formats it can shop globally and scale bigger or smaller depending on a given market’s demands.

For Endemol Shine USA’s president of unscripted, Eden Gaha, scalable competition, game show and stunt formats are his big focus this year. The company is also making a bigger push into the Latin American and U.S. Hispanic markets, with a new hub for Latin American business led by Laurens Drillich.

Over the past year, the company and its subsidiaries have produced 1,000 hours of programming across 30 networks, including MasterChef and MasterChef Junior for Fox, Big Brother for CBS, The Island with Bear Grylls and The Biggest Loser for NBC, Ink Master for Spike and The Real Housewives of Atlanta for Bravo.

Its 2016 slate includes Hunted, a UK-originating competition format for CBS in which contestants go on the lam and attempt to evade skilled fugitive trackers, and the restaurant-focused Billion Dollar Buyer and a third season of Restaurant Startup, both for CNBC. Gaha also says he is “bullish” about getting the Kal Penn-fronted special Superhuman, which aired earlier this month on Fox, to series.

Ahead of the Realscreen Summit this week, realscreen spoke with Gaha about Blank Spaces and Spelling Bee, what types of formats he would like to see on network primetime and strategies for moving reality onto VOD platforms.

Do you feel like unscripted needs a revitalization in 2016?
It’s continuing to evolve. I arrived in the United States 14 years ago to the day and it was a very different industry in unscripted then. A lot more is expected of unscripted producers because there are a lot more fans diving into what it is that we do. And I welcome that challenge. Our buyers are always telling us we need something different. When Survivor was pitched, when Biggest Loser was pitched, when Amazing Race was pitched or Big Brother – they were different.

We have to look inward and and say what are we doing that’s the same? And what are we doing that’s the same but that’s working? And what could we be doing different that the audience hasn’t seen before?

What is not working?
Predictability. A format works because people understand what they should see. They see a challenge, they see a scene, they see a work out, they see a tribal council and then they see an elimination. Those are the hallmarks and tent poles that tend to work. But you could also blur those lines, which is to say, you hide the ball. You show something about a format that people expect. They get satisfied by an outcome, but it’s being delivered in such a way that they haven’t seen before and is unexpected. Hunted is a great example of that. If you’ve seen the UK version, there are eliminations but they happen organically and authentically. Not because the format dictated so.

What genres are you focusing on in 2016?
Our focus going forward is scale. Big shows that will travel and that can be scaled up or down. It’s fantastic to be able to come up with IP in this territory and move it around the world, but it’s equally important for us to find the gems in other territories that are succeeding and bring them to the United States. Obviously we are in enough countries that we can bring shows, ideas, creative concepts and tapes to this market with ratings data and a history.

That doesn’t mean we’re not doubling down on our own development here in the U.S. It’s just much harder to get a show off the ground, but when you do you can really succeed by moving that around in other territories as well.

Our focus is on what we do well. Remember this was Endemol, this was Shine – we did competition and reality very well. We did game very well. We did stunt shows very well. I wouldn’t say we’re completely sticking to our knitting, but we’re not going too far away from what we know we can do well and those genres are ones that we’re focused on going forward. I’d love to see a new, big network primetime game show.

What new formats are you working on this year?
We’re taking swings at some things that come from different places. With Endemol Beyond we have a robust digital business and we’ve done overall deals with the likes of Randy Jackson, Steve Harvey, and Ryan Seacrest. That’s really starting to bear fruit for us.

One show we’re developing is called Blank Spaces and that specifically came out of our digital group. The idea is about urban renewal and bringing back to life places that have long since gone by the by and rejuvenating a community by renovating a space. We had success with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and I feel like this could well be an Extreme for the next generation.

Another format that has come from another territory is Spelling Star. Big hit in Australia. We want to attach the right talent and take that out as well. What I love about that show is they’ve found a way to format [a spelling bee] across 10 or 12 episodes. With the success of MasterChef Junior there are more shows celebrating the prodigy of great, young talent.

Do these formats have those unpredictability elements you were talking about before?
The second one is a little more traditional but certainly Blank Spaces – yes. Absolutely. There are elements that we’re developing that aren’t just ‘fantastic -tears are shed when a place is renovated, the bus drives away and we start somewhere else next week.’ There are other elements that are a part of this urban renewal that we want to continue on with as well. In the past, a lot of reality shows have stopped when the tape stops and the episode ends. We have a responsibility to do more beyond that and it really helps the future health of your franchises if what you set out to do what is indeed being done.

How much of a priority is getting shows greenlit by Netflix, Amazon and other SVOD platforms, especially given that they have been reluctant to embrace reality?
The challenge is the model that we watch is often one hour, two hours, maybe even half an hour. There is a structure, as I said before, and given that there tends to be an elimination at the end of every episode it doesn’t naturally lend itself to the viewing model that these platforms provide.

People don’t necessarily want to stack a season of one particular show. If it’s good enough, maybe they will but the challenge for us is to develop for the way the audience wants their content. It’s less about some of those format elements and [more about] things we’re seeing on Hunted or The Island, or talent-driven shows that have a point of view that is somewhat different to what you would expect.

What impact is VOD having on the development process?
Development is more targeted now whereas before you wouldn’t develop a show unless you thought you could pitch it to 10 different people. The splintering of the audience is such that you do have to develop more specifically. We might develop something for ABC or NBC that is quite different from that which we might develop for Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Studios.

If the idea is good, what is the different spin? For instance, you might take out a show to a broadcast network but you also see that it could potentially have a life on a digital VOD platform. As a result, you have to develop a little bit differently, change the pitch slightly, change the structure of an episode so it fits with what it is that’s already on the air. It’s less of a scattershot approach. You have to be more targeted. You have to understand audiences.

Have you made any inroads on VOD?
We’ve begun to already. It’s early days but it’s an exciting time.


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