'Facing Up to Fazura' Ushers in a New Era of TV Programming in Malaysia

Fazura H 2014
Universal Networks International

THR spoke to NBCUniversal's Scott Mackenzie on the rise of locally produced reality shows in Southeast Asia

Malaysia got its first taste of Keeping Up With the Kardashians-style reality TV when the first E! miniseries featuring a local Malaysian personality premiered in the country as well as Indonesia and Singapore on Dec. 14. 

Facing Up to Fazura, starring actress, singer and all-around pop-culture phenomenon Nur Fazura Sharifuddin, follows a format familiar to E! shows that have been long established in the U.S. 

Despite the huge global success of shows like Kardashians, the reality shows — at least locally produced reality shows — are still relatively new in Asia. Earlier this year, E! had a breakout success with It Takes Gutz to Be a Gutierrez, its first reality show produced outside the U.S., which featured Filipino personality Raymond Gutierrez.

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Broadcast first in the Philippines, the success of It Takes Gutz was such that the show was rolled out to other Asian markets, and NBCUniversal was emboldened enough to create more local fare. 

At a press conference to launch Fazura earlier in December, THR spoke with Scott Mackenzie, vp Channels, Asia at NBCUniversal about why the company decided the time was right to push locally produced reality formats, how the Asian viewer had changed, local challenges and differences between territories and plans to produce more reality shows. 

Given the conservative nature of Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, how much can Fazura actually say?

I think that one of the things that first attracted us to Fazura and made us want to do a show with her was the fact that she is really incredibly open for a Malaysian celebrity, and I think certainly there are different cultural considerations. A lot of the stuff that we see on-air in reality shows in the U.S. just is not the reality for people in this part of the world. So I think what we're doing with this show is showing a very authentic Malaysian celebrity in her natural environment, and that comes through. So Fazura's definitely someone that's been in the headlines a lot; she's not shy when she's talking about it. 

Is the show modeled on the established American formats that have been so successful, or is it something new? 

?I think it's breaking new ground in a sense that we're taking the treatment that we give celebrities and stars overseas and then bringing that to Asia and doing it with local stars, and I think that's something that hasn't been done before. We did — just for the first time ever this year — we did E!'s first reality series outside the U.S. in the Philippines with a celebrity family there [It Takes Gutz], and that show went to No. 1 in that market. And it gave people sort of a look at what this very famous group of people are like at home while the cameras aren't rolling on the various TV shows or movies, and I think that really gave us a lot of confidence to say 'Hey we did this once.' It's about finding the right personalities, and you put them on camera, and we don't expect anyone to act in any way different. You don't need to live up to or do exactly what Kim Kardashian does; you've just got to be you, and hopefully you as a celebrity are an interesting enough person. 

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Fazura is incredibly popular in Malaysia, but how do you roll out a show like this to other Southeast Asian markets where she isn't as famous? 

I think there are certain universal themes, whether it's family or relationship, work/life balance, the people you deal with. Going back to It Takes Gutz, our expectation was 'Hey, this will be huge in the Philippines, and if it does well somewhere else, we'll be happy.' And then actually it became very successful for us in Malaysia as well. We got traction in a lot of the other Asian territories. Part of it is if you put people on TV long enough, and you see them week after week, and you follow their story, you get to know them as a person or as a group of people and you start to care about them whether they're from your exact culture or not. And I think in the U.S., you know, there are certainly shows about people from different cultural backgrounds that you can be a fan of even if you are not from that same background. I think we're hoping to replicate that, and we do think that Fazura has potential certainly in Malaysia but across the wider region as well. There are large Malay communities; there's a large Malay community in Singapore. There's some sharing of cultural properties between Malaysia and Indonesia. Other markets, if we can capture some of that audience that may already be there and grow from that base, would be very successful for us.

Are shows like Fazura and It Takes Gutz something that you're going to introduce more and more?

I think all across Asia we're definitely looking at more local productions in different territories, and this is partially to reflect consumer tastes in the market. We look at the numbers for what people are watching, what ratings are, and E! is definitely a brand that has its fingers on the pulse of pop culture and people in these markets. Modern Asian viewers are interested not only in Hollywood celebrities but also in their own local celebrities and content. Malaysian stars, Filipino stars — it could be Korean stars next.