MIPTV: Adaptations Are the Charm for Global Broadcasters
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.
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.
“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.