Keren Shahar, Keshet International’s COO and president of distribution, talks to TV Formats about the tech dramedy Loaded.
Loaded will make its U.S. debut on AMC on July 17. The show, about a group of friends who hit it rich after selling off their start-up, is based on the Israeli series Mesudarim. The format has been taken out to the global market by Keshet International, and the U.S. is just one of the countries to sign up for an adaptation.
“Although a comedy-drama format now, the story behind Mesudarim is one of truth and history,” explains Keren Shahar, Keshet International’s COO and president of distribution. “On June 8, 1998, three young entrepreneurs sold their instant messaging software ICQ to AOL for $400 million, making history at the start of Israel’s tech boom. Their exit strategy became the ultimate goal and dream for thousands of young Israelis over the following decades. The creators of Mesudarim, Muli Segev and Assaf Harel, were the same age as the entrepreneurs and knew the three men personally. They watched as overnight they transformed from three start-up entrepreneurs to multimillionaires and witnessed how their lives changed as a result—each in line with their individual character. Nine years later, in 2007, when the start-up dream had already become the obsession of an entire generation in Tel Aviv and across Israel, Mesudarim premiered on Israel’s Channel 2. The show aired for two seasons to great success.” It was the winner of four Israeli Academy Awards in 2007, including best comedy, best director and best screenplay.
The success of Mesudarim made Keshet realize that the show’s concept could be relevant anywhere, “as the global tech industry was evolving at lightning speed and making many young entrepreneurs phenomenally wealthy,” Shahar says.
The London-based Keshet UK was the first to adapt the format, entering into a co-production agreement with Hillbilly Television, Channel 4 and AMC to create Loaded. While the U.S. launch is just around the corner, the series is already airing in the U.K.
“In late 2015, we licensed the format to Huace Group/Croton Media, one of China’s largest production companies, and in early 2016, we licensed it to Televisa as part of a scripted series output deal,” Shahar notes. “The Spanish-language adaptation, entitled M.I.N.T., will air in Mexico and to U.S. Hispanic audiences.” Filmmaker Jorge Aragón is attached as director for that version.
Shahar stresses that it’s important for the various treatments to embrace the local sensibilities of their markets. “Loaded U.K. does just that,” she says. “Written by the incredibly talented Jon Brown (Veep, Fresh Meat), it confronts the peculiar British distaste for other people’s success, which influences the way people react to the show’s newly minted millionaires and how they carry themselves in light of their newfound wealth. It also has a stronger female character, Casey—the ballsy representative of the parent company who has taken ownership—played by Mary McCormack (The West Wing, Deep Impact). Having Mary on board is great for the show’s U.S. and international appeal, but it wasn’t a forced casting decision; she is just a brilliant fit for the narrative.”
“M.I.N.T. is something different again,” Shahar continues. “The cinematography is very dramatic; it is shot like a movie, thanks to Jorge Aragón. More than its other adaptations, M.I.N.T. is an in-depth study of the lead character, Memo. It builds an incredible back story about his childhood, which helps the audience better understand Memo’s vision, his genius and his lifelong belief that he would revolutionize the tech industry. Also, M.I.N.T. is told as a strict drama, whereas the original and U.K. versions are interspersed with comedic scenes, mainly to do with how the twentysomethings respond in obnoxious ways to earning their millions.”
At the show’s core are themes of friendship, ambition and excess. “It explores how very young people handle (sudden) wealth and deal with the challenges of being a young entrepreneur—trying, as young fish, to compete with and impress the sharks,” says Shahar. “It also examines the ways in which money can put lifelong friendships to the test and why it doesn’t necessarily make you happy. At the same time, it is also a very uplifting, relatable and inspirational show.”
Keshet International believes there’s also sales potential for the finished tapes. “While the U.K. version is very British, the caliber of talent in front of and behind the camera holds huge appeal with international audiences,” Shahar says. “We will also hold distribution rights for the eventual Chinese adaptation, which we expect to travel more widely in Asia.”
Given the tech-infused premise of the show, the scripted format extends rather organically into the second-screen digital space, says Shahar. “You can let your imagination run wild with potential digital add-ons, allowing a channel to engage with its audience on several platforms—anything from an app to a VR game as audiences become more technologically advanced.”