EA exec is game for Asia talk show

Jon Nierman moonlights for upcoming 'Asia Uncut'

BANGKOK -- Asia's newest late-night talk show will be as fresh an experience for its host as it will be for the 53 countries in which it's debuting next month.

"Asia Uncut," an English-language, Friday night show featuring celebrity guests, new talent and musical acts, will air on News Corp.'s STAR World network, its reins in the hands of Jon Nierman, a 43-year-old American gaming executive who is making his first-ever foray before the cameras.

" 'Who the heck is Jon Nierman?' We get asked a lot," Nierman said with a laugh from his office in Shanghai. Come midnight on March 13, 300 million cable viewers in countries from India to Taiwan will have the chance to find out as the chat show neophyte attempts to channel his idols -- early Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin -- while interviewing the likes of Brendan Fraser and Maggie Q.

"This show fills a void in Asia, where there are no after-dinner English shows to showcase talent visiting from overseas or English-speaking talent from inside Asia," said Nierman, whose day job is as head of Asia operations for gaming giant Electronic Arts.

"And, hey, where else could a guy like me host a show of his own?" joked Nierman, who has lived in Asia for 11 years now.

STAR has made "a significant commitment" to the show, he said, declining to elaborate. So far, STAR has licensed at least seven episodes, shows that Nierman has flown to Singapore to shoot when not tied up at EA.

Banking on the relative low cost of shooting in Asia, the growth of the region's entertainment business and a rise in both English fluency and incomes, the shows are being produced by West Meets East, a company Nierman formed in Singapore in cooperation with producer James Rotheram of Hong Kong production outfit Hurrah and Singapore-based TV director Adi Thayi.

"We'll add sketches and develop as we go, but the key is to get our guests out of the studio and surprise them with the unexpected during their interviews," Nierman said.

A 15-year marketing veteran for the Walt Disney Co., Nierman is vaulting into the TV host's seat with no experience in front of the camera. "Sure, I did emceeing at corporate events, but that's it," he said, not sounding the least bit intimidated. "Because I'm a white guy hosting a show in Asia, I think we can get away with a bit more."

A promotional reel showed the boyish Nierman challenging U.K. pop musician James Blunt to a karaoke sing-off in Singapore's Chinatown and later taking a kung-fu lesson from martial arts choreographer Anthony Szeto

Among other guests set to appear are Soler, twin brother musicians from Macau who pelt Nierman with soccer balls; NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who schools Nierman at hoops in Beijing; and actress Karena Lam, who meets him in her native Hong Kong, where she calls him "sweaty" after a walk up the island's famed Peak.

"Asia Uncut" will focus on general entertainment, not the gaming world, Nierman said, noting that it's a coincidence that early guest Maggie Q starred in the EA game "Need for Speed." "She's the only one connected both to EA and the show," he said. "For EA, it's just about a sponsor's credit and exposure."

If Nierman's chops as a gabber and his relative anonymity are no impediment to the show's success, he hopes to see "Asia Uncut" move over to terrestrial broadcasters after its initial run on STAR World cable's four feeds.

"We're already talking to the Shanghai Media Group for their English-language channel, to Channel 5 in Singapore, to TVB in Hong Kong and to CCTV-9 in China," Nierman said.
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