Cologne makes a name in TV formats


German TV lacks the international brand awareness of the country's juggernaut car industry. Indeed, there are no Porsches, Mercs or Bimmers coming out of Germany's TV factories. But in the area in and around Cologne, a small group of production houses is doing what used to be considered impossible: making Teutonic TV people outside the country want to see.

Brainpool's "Beat Your Host" has sold to more than a dozen major territories, including the U.K., where the format aired on ITV, and France, where TF1 grabbed the comedy/game show combo in which a star host competes one-on-one against a contestant in a series of challenging and bizarre contests.

Action Concept, a pioneer in the German industry for more than a decade, had its first international hit with the Autobahn cop series "Alarm for Cobra 11," a show with fans from Bonn to Beijing. More recently, the company launched "112," a daily action serial that started strong for broadcaster RTL and which FremantleMedia is counting on to drive international sales at this year's MIPCOM.

Made in Cologne productions as varied as improv sitcom "Schiller Street" from Hurricane Fernsehproduktion, swat team action series "Special Unit" from Typhoon, and Grundy Light Entertainment's celebrity game show "Battleship" have all floated successfully on the international market, with multiple territory sales.

"There's something about Cologne and the Rhineland in general that's just conducive to producing TV entertainment," says Grundy head Ute Biernat. "Maybe it's the carnival spirit. In Cologne you never have a problem getting a TV audience together that will laugh loud and sing on cue."

Brainpool boss Jorg Grabosch puts the local success down to history: With WDR and RTL, Cologne is home to Europe's largest public and commercial broadcasters. "People -- the writers, producers and talent -- go where the jobs are, and they're here," he says. "Nowhere else (in Germany) will you find a greater concentration of talent -- from stand-up comedians to sketch writers to production crews."

German formats will likely never be as internationally successful as the country's gas guzzlers, but shows like "Beat Your Host" and "112" should ensure that the Made in Cologne brand will continue to gain ground.