Armoza Betting on Game Show/Variety Revival With NBC's 'I Can Do That!'

I Can Do That Penn Teller

The new series, which premieres Tuesday night, marks the first primetime U.S. show from the fast-growing Israeli studio.

The U.S. networks are counting on game and variety shows to be the new reality juggernauts, so, after last week's debut of ABC's 500 Questions, NBC enters the primetime entertainment fray Tuesday night with I Can Do That!, its own attempt to redefine the show format.

Scary Movie star Marlon Wayans hosts the show, in which six celebrities compete against one another to perform everything from sporting feats to dance routines to magic tricks. The first six-episode season features comedian Jeff Dye (Last Comic Standing), actor Alan Ritchson (The Wedding Ringer), Dancing With the Stars' Cheryl Burke and recording artists Ciara, Joe Jonas and Nicole Scherzinger.

For Avi Armoza, whose Armoza Formats created the original, Israeli version of I Can Do That!, tonight is a milestone: his first show on U.S. primetime. 

“It's a big challenge. I think there is a strong need to find a new primetime entertainment show,” Armoza tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But it will be a question of tone, a question of emphasis, that determines if ours can win out.”

I Can Do That! has been successful in several international markets, but that might not be the best indicator for NBC's success with the show as the U.S. version differs substantially both from the original Israeli format and its foreign spin-offs. First, at only an hour long, the NBC show is shorter than the 90-minute Israeli version (or the two-and-a-half-hour version that airs in Italy). It is also — at least designed to be — funnier than the original. Armoza describes the Wayans-led I Can Do That! as an “ensemble sitcom like Friends” with a substantial dose of physical comedy.

I Can Do That! is Armoza's big bet as it tries to crack the U.S. market. Just ten years old, the Tel Aviv-based group is already a leading indie producer/distributor on the international market — I Can Do That! is licensed in around 15 territories and already on air in seven — but Armoza has yet to make waves stateside. Its first attempt, NBC's short-lived Who's Still Standing?, a quiz show that dropped unlucky contestants through a trap door in the stage, was canceled after a single season. In the wake of several expensive reality show flops, Armoza is deliberately playing down expectations for I Can Do That!

“Everyone is looking for the next big thing, but we are hoping instead to do something solid, to get the right idea and build from that,” he says. “NBC has been very careful with this show; that's why we are doing six episodes (in the first season) and testing to see how it is received.”

If I Can Do That! gets traction, Armoza already has a follow-up format in the works. At international television market MIPTV last month, it introduced primetime game show Babushka to international buyers. The show, which Armoza and France's TF1 Group are developing together with Ryan Seacrest Productions, is a spin on Deal or No Deal, using huge versions of nested Russian dolls in place of briefcases.

“There is a real hunger in the market for a new primetime game show, because if they work, if they deliver the ratings, they can be extremely profitable for broadcasters,” says Armoza. “Networks are taking risks, which is a good thing, trying to find the next big show. But everyone is watching to see how they do.”

500 Questions debuted to a solid, if not spectacular, 1.2 rating in the key 18-49 demo last week. All eyes will be on NBC's I Can Do That! and Fox's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? tonight. Fox's Bullseye (think Fear Factor meets Wipeout) premieres Wednesday, with Boom!, another Israeli import — from Armoza competitor Keshet — debuts, also on Fox, on June 25.