New Reality Shows Fail to Generate Interest at MIPCOM

Courtesy of Principal Communications Group
'Help! I Can't Cook!'

'Celebrity Pole Dancing,' anyone?

This story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

MIPCOM, the international market held each October in Cannes, is the birthplace of reality TV. It's where such shows as Sweden's Expedition Robinson (remade as Survivor) and Dutch series Big Brother launched before going viral. But if this year's market was an indication, reality's heat finally is beginning to cool.

Broadcasters witnessed a parade of new shows, each appearing more desperate than the next. Talpa, the Dutch group that delivered the world's most recent big reality hit in The Voice (as well as Utopia, one of its recent U.S. flops), presented Beat It, wherein singing contestants perform simultaneously before celebrity judges who can push a button to catapult them into a water tank or douse them in goo. FremantleMedia's quiz show Heaven or Hell, a German format, punishes contestants with disgusting or humiliating challenges. Other offerings included the Dutch show Celebrity Pole Dancing, which is exactly as it sounds, and Endemol International's Keep Your Dog Alive, on which people compete to receive a newborn clone of their beloved aging pooch.

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Such ideas probably would have found buyers in years past, but recent flops have made broadcasters wary. In 2013 at MIPCOM, networks worldwide set off a bidding war for Keshet International's Rising Star. Although a hit at home in Israel, the real-time voting format has failed to deliver elsewhere. After seeing the ratings for ABC's summer run, Britain's ITV axed the show before its debut. Keshet vp programming Ran Telem says networks have become "extremely risk-averse," making it harder to pitch "truly innovative ideas."

Shine France did buy Keshet's celebrity format Help! I Can't Cook!, which emphasizes positivity. National Geographic ordered a season of Electus' The Raft, which strands strangers in the ocean, and NBC greenlighted Better Late Than Never, based on the South Korean hit Grandpas Over Flowers, on which five actors take a bucket-list trip. But a megahit remained elusive.

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Even Simon Cowell, MIPCOM's personality of the year honoree, admits it has become tougher for nonscripted formats to succeed. "When you try something really new, there's no safety factor," he tells THR. Still, he says his Syco (X Factor, Got Talent) remains in demand: "We've started to get more calls from the major networks to see what we have next."