Far out emerges from Far East

Quirky Japanese formats spread around the world

The playful "torture" of Fuji TV's "Silent Library" — which ranges from contestants having nose hairs plucked out to tarantulas placed down their shirts — was among the hot Japanese formats in the international spotlight Tuesday during MIPTV's special focus on Japan.

"Pain is an important factor but in a humorous way of doing things," 2WayTraffic chief creative officer Taco Ketelaar said of the format his company picked up last year for global distribution.

"The success of Western formats has led to a lot of similarity, and stations have been asking for things that are new and different," said Bellon Entertainment president Gregory Bellon, who moderated a panel, "Japan's Newest Program Export: Formats."

Ketelaar said the success of "Silent Library" and another Fuji TV format, "Hole in the Wall" (licensed by FremantleMedia), was just the beginning.

"We're now being approached by lots of Japanese companies," he said. "A lot of it is about timing. No one dared pick them up before. Now broadcasters in Europe and the U.S. are opening their minds to trying new stuff."

2WayTraffic also has licensed Japanese station YTV's "The Real Fame Game" for international distribution.

Rob Clark, FremantleMedia senior executive vp entertainment and production worldwide entertainment, said it took him one minute to decide to license Fuji TV's "Hole in the Wall."

The format, dubbed "human Tetris," has been sold to 17 countries, including Russia, India, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Ratings for the local version of the show in Denmark were 500% above the slot average, and Indonesia was airing two versions a day, including a daytime version, Clark said.

He added that the format featured two fundamental television principles: "If you fall on your arse, it gets a laugh. When you are pushed into a swimming pool, it gets an even bigger laugh," he said.

"I don't believe 'Hole in the Wall' would have been made by a European, U.S. or Australian broadcaster," Clark said. "Fundamentally, it's very different in its humor. It has a lightness of touch that could never have been devised by our U.K. office, which would have wanted more structure, more game elements."

Nippon Television Network producer Jin Kurihara said that shows like "Dragon's Den," which first aired in Japan in a post-midnight slot in 2001, would not have been possible in the past.

Licensed by Sony Pictures Television, "Dragon's Den" involves entrepreneurs pitching ideas to venture capitalists.

"Japan never had a business venture mind, but now things are changing," Kurihara said.