MIPTV: Adaptations Are the Charm for Global Broadcasters

Eccho Rights
'The End,' a Turkish drama about a family with a dark secret, is just one of the international series heading to the U.S.

Networks descend on Cannes looking for the next "Homeland" or "The Voice."

Catch the latest episode of The End, the hit psychological thriller from Turkey? How about Hellfjord, that Monty Python-esque sitcom from Norway? Or the German political game show, Absolute Majority? No? Well, you should, because what's knocking them dead in Catalonia, Bavaria or Istanbul right now will be on air next year in Burbank and Brooklyn. 

As international television market MIPTV kicks off in Cannes next week, network and cable reps from the U.S. and around the world descend on the Cote d'Azur on the hunt for the next big foreign show to adapt and retool for their local markets.

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These days that doesn't just mean the latest reality format or game show – genres long dominated by imported shows such as American Idol (British) or The Voice (Dutch). There will be plenty of those on offer at MIP but now scripted drama and comedy formats, usually thought to be tricky to adapt, are in demand. The success of Showtime's Emmy-winning Homeland, adapted from an Israeli series, has opened the floodgates for international producers looking to export their ideas.

“The competition in the adaptation business has grown exponentially. Just a few years ago, the major studios weren't focused on this business, adapted reality or scripted formats,” says John Pollack, president of Electus International, who, as an exec with Ben Silverman's Reveille Productions helped pioneer U.S. adaptations of international formats, bringing Brit sitcom The Office to NBC and producing an American version of Columbian telenovela Ugly Betty for ABC. “Back then, you had maybe 3 to 4 territories producing shows that went global. There was the U.S., the U.K. and maybe the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Now the ideas are coming from everywhere -- Israel, Singapore, wherever. Walking around MIPTV there's no shortage of content. The biggest challenge is finding that really new idea, the thing that hasn't been done before."

The success of Showtime's Homeland, adapted from Keshet Broadcasting's drama Prisoners of War, has the whole world looking at Israel for the next big thing. Keshet has several network development deals in the works including one with NBC for M.I.C.E., a spy drama based on the Israeli series Gordin Cell; a U.S. version of single-camera sitcom Your Family or Mine? for ABC and Mother's Day, an Israeli comedy format which CBS has added to its development slate. As a whole, Israel led the way in sales of scripted formats to the U.S.

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“In Israel we don't have the big budgets of an American show, a very expensive show in Israel would cost a tenth of the equivalent American one, but we have a very demanding local audience,” says Ran Tellem vp of Programming at Keshet Broadcasting. “The typical Israeli viewer is very eager to try new things but has very little time or patience and gets bored very quickly. If you look at an Israeli format that's been on the air for 10 years, you see it has been changed dramatically, many times over. A U.S. format can run for 10 years with only minor changes. We have to stay ahead of them, we have to take risks. That gives us an advantage internationally."

While Israeli drama is red hot, another Middle Eastern territory – Turkey – is also attracting attention. Already a regional powerhouse, with Turkish soaps and series ratings hits across the Arab world, Turkish dramas are now moving West. Sander/Moses Productions, the shingle behind CBS' Ghost Whisperer, has picked up remake rights to hit Turkish psychological drama The End from Scandinavian sales outfit Eccho Rights. The series is about a happy couple who seem to live an ideal life but the husband has a dark secret that comes to light when he is apparently killed in a plane crash. Eccho has sold The End to some 35 territories and it was the first Turkish series to air in primetime on a major Western broadcaster, premiering on Sweden's SVT.

“It is only natural that The End reached U.S. shores,” says Mia Engstrom, director of Sales and Acquisitions at Eccho Rights. “Turkish drama is in huge demand across the world."

Another up-and-coming international territory is Spain, which has several entertainment formats that are generating heat among broadcast buyers. Iberian shows attracting attention include Don't Say It, Bring It!, an urban game show from Phileas Productions which has been optioned for the U.S. and U.K. with Britain's Global Agency picking up worldwide rights; and the entertainment variety format The Anthill, which has sold across Europe and Asia.

Reality TV giant Endemol, the group behind hit formats Big Brother and The Money Drop has picked up two Spanish shows for international distribution: Plan B -- which has people who have never met create music together via the Internet -- and Your Face Sounds Familiar, a talent show in which VIPs imitate pop stars to win money for charity.

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“It's celebrity driven with a big comic twist,” Iris Boelhouwer, head of  global creative operations for Endemol, says of Your Face.  “It's been sold to 20 territories, including the U.S., U.K. and France, and shows the trend towards very positive, very fun formats."

Britain and Scandinavia remain go-to territories for adaptations both reality and drama. Following AMC's U.S. take on hit Danish crime procedural The Killing, American adaptations of similarly complex Nordic dramas Borgen and The Bridge are in the works. Britain, which leads the world in reality and show formats -- from Idol to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to Come Dine With Me and Dancing With The Stars -- continues to deliver non-fiction that can travel the globe.

For London-based indie production giant TwoFour, it's all about paring audience 
demographics with network targets. While there is still a strong market for entertainment formats internationally, TwoFour Broadcast managing director Melanie Leach told THR that in the U.S. it is all about character-driven observational documentaries from TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo on up.

“We've tasked our L.A. outpost to trawl the streets of America looking 
for character driven documentary subjects,” says Leach, even as TwoFour put increased effort into tailoring successful home-grown formats for the U.S. and international 
 One such example will be the MIP TV debut for TwoFour's British hit reality show The Magaluf Weekender, co-produced with GroupM Entertainment.
The show, which aired on commercial network ITV2 garnering more than a million viewers earlier 
this year, is a observational reality show about two different groups of 18-24 year-olds 
who head to Magaluf on the Spanish island of Mallorca, an infamous haven for
 drink, drugs and sex. Renamed The Resort for international format sales, Leach says she is targeting youth networks such as VH1 or MTV for global adaptations. 

Another TwoFour show making a global move is the hidden camera format The Secret
 Interview, which puts eight  people through an interview process
 while they think they are simply being filmed at work. Behind the scenes, undercover actors stir up trouble to see the interviewees reactions. While the U.K. version has a serious element -- a real prospective boss watches everything on hidden cameras -- the U.S. version of Secret Interview will be “an out
 and out hidden camera entertainment show," Leach says. 
"Tonally US shows are different and they are not governed by the same rules
 and regulations as program makers in the U.K."

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U.K. independent distributor Hat Trick International, a company synonymous with comedy 
shows, will land in MIP TV armed with a brand new version of its improv format Whose Line is it Anyway? as well as a new take on its BBC One series Room 101, in which three celebrities compete to banish their top pet peeve,
annoyance, or worst nightmare forever into the dreaded Room 101. On the scripted side, Hat Trick has pre-sold the second season of its BAFTA award-winning BSkyB comedy drama Spy to 105 countries. Hat Trick is currently shooting a U.S. pilot of Spy for ABC starring The Daily Show's Rob Corddry.

Comedy can be notoriously hard to translate -- remember the disaster when NBC tried to transport BBC sitcom Coupling to the U.S.? -- but international laffers are enjoying a comeback at MIP this year. Showtime has picked up remake rights to Hellfjord, a dark, very politically incorrect Norwegian comedy written by director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel – Witch Hunter). Belgium hidden-camera comedy format Benidorm Bastards has been a hit worldwide, including in its U.S. incarnation as Betty White's Off Their Rockers for NBC.

“There are a lot of really new, really great show ideas out there,” says Jens Richter of Red Arrow, which is selling both Hellfjord and Benidorm Bastards internationally. “The problem is the channels have become so risk adverse. For broadcasters its all about: track record, track record, track record".

Which is why, despite the boom in international formats on display at MIPTV this year, much of the wheeling and dealing looks 
likely to be dominated with renewals and licensing of catalog product. Or new shows that feel like old ones.

“I don't see anything mind-blowing this year,” says Karoline Spodsberg of Banijay International, whose MIPTV line-up includes celebrity diving format Stars in Danger: The High Dive and the relaunch of Popstars, the original singing competition show. “The trend, if you can call it a trend – is that people are reworking already existing genres and existing shows. Almost everything “new” is set in something we already know and already is successful."

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So we have ABC's format The Taste, which Red Arrow is selling internationally, a combination of the head-to-head cooking of Iron Chef with the blind auditions of The Voice. Or Everybody Dance Now, a group dancing take on So You Think You Can Dance? from Fremantle Media's Dutch subsidiary Blue Circle. In fact, the most successful “new” format of the past two years has been The Voice from Talpa Media, a show that is essentially American Idol with spinning chairs.

“Broadcasters are always looking for the next big hit but they are getting more risk-adverse every year,” says Iris Boelhouwer of Endemol. “Even older formats can still do amazingly well. Big Brother is in its 14th or 15th year in some territories and it is still selling. We are still selling first original series, like in Canada where it has just started".

Indeed, Big Brother in the U.K. easily made the transition from Channel 4 to Channel 5 and broadcasters in both Germany and Portugal are relaunching a celebrity version of the show (in Britain both the original and the celebrity versions are hits), proving the grandfather of reality shows still has some life left in it.

“Budgets are going down and margins are being squeezed, which means more consolidation and fewer and fewer indies,”  Boelhouwer says. “That also means new business models and new opportunities, particularly with international adaptations. We are actually in a very exciting time for our industry."