Andre Renaud, senior VP of global format sales at BBC Studios, talks to TV Formats about what’s driving the company’s scripted formats business.
Hotstar in India recently signed up for a second season of its own take on Criminal Justice, Peter Moffat’s acclaimed BBC series that became The Night Of on HBO. It’s the latest in a wave of BBC Studios scripted formats being adapted across the globe.
TV FORMATS: What have been your best-selling scripted formats? What makes these shows adaptable?
RENAUD: We have a good handful of shows that we’ve been able to adapt successfully. Interestingly, the top one is The Office—we have ten versions of that. There are other stories like Life on Mars, which we made in Spain, Russia and the Czech Republic; Doctor Foster has had versions in India and France; Luther has been in South Korea and Russia; even Criminal Justice—we just announced a second season in India.
It’s about strong, bold characters. The individual stories and events surrounding them can be both unique and universal. It’s a young man driving a taxi who has the worst night of his life, a career officer trying not to be consumed by the crimes he investigates, the day-to-day goings-on of people in an office. All of those are strangely both specific and universal.
TV FORMATS: In a very crowded scripted market today, what advantages do formats offer commissioners?
RENAUD: Historically, people haven’t looked too far for local story development. But in the last two years, the impact of scripted has grown. We have seen that. We were the largest scripted format seller in Asia last year. I think there are two key things, besides the characters and stories we’ve told. One is the reduced development cost, and two is the reduced development time. A show can be from page to stage within a year. When you look at markets like Korea, where year-on-year they have to keep bringing in more new ideas, that’s advantageous.
TV FORMATS: What’s driving your growth in Asia, especially India?
RENAUD: It helped that we launched our own production company in India! If I look at places like Asia, scripted formats build complementary business models. We can bring foreign shows to markets that aren’t necessarily used to English-language, six-part stories—Japan and Korea, particularly—as scripted formats. Something like The Office hadn’t been seen before in India. The idea of actors doing improvisational comedy, or just reacting, was new and felt unique. People at home could watch it and say, That’s like my office.
TV FORMATS: Are broadcasters often licensing the original tape version along with the format rights?
RENAUD: If people want to buy both, we’ll gladly sell them! It depends, market-by-market and customer-by-customer. For example, if a market doesn’t have a strong appetite for a U.K. show or an international show, then putting a local version out there is very helpful. Drama Republic’s Doctor Foster has been licensed around the world, mostly on OTT services, and the local adaptations are coming on to [linear] broadcasters so it is possible to have both in one market. I think it’s rare that there would be a single channel that would look at both investing in a local drama like that and also buying tape; you tend to do one or the other. You’re looking at two different audience segments as well.
TV FORMATS: The BBC Studios scripted library is so deep; how do you decide what to take out and pitch as a scripted format?
RENAUD: If anyone wants to dive into that catalog and tell us there’s a story they want to work on adapting, we’re happy to do it! It comes down to really strong characters. If you take Doctor Foster, this is a story of someone who is a prominent member of society with a job that connects her to the community. She discovers her husband is having an affair. That story is about how she struggles to balance her values and her emotions and how they drive [her] to make good or bad decisions. On The Split—we’ve just announced the first adaptation, in Korea—it’s the same thing: strong characters. Most of the stories we’ve found that have been successful adaptations, outside of comedy, are those with strong female protagonists as well. Those are the stories that are itching to be told.
TV FORMATS: Is drama easier to adapt than comedy? Or vice versa?
RENAUD: The Office has observational humor, which lends itself to adaptation pretty well. Those prototype characters can be found anywhere. Friday Night Dinner is another example of that. These are characters that don’t become caricatures, but they have that element we can all identify with.
TV FORMATS: How much leeway do you give your partners on changing the storyline or characters to suit their needs?
RENAUD: For us, flexibility is really important. If there are strong reasons for a character in an adaptation to change something—job, family environment—we’re open to having that discussion. It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re giving partners the full background into a character to make that decision. Would Doctor Foster work if she weren’t a doctor? Probably. But the point is the external prominence of her role—being a local doctor in a small town means you are at the center of the community. Her struggle is between the breakdown of her family and her reputation. You could make her a city councilor, I guess, or a senator, but she has to have a strong standing in the community because that’s what turns into her internal struggle. It’s important for us to share the heart of the character, and if there’s something that needs to be adapted, we can talk about the impact of that overall journey.
TV FORMATS: Apart from the scripts, what kind of assistance do you offer your partners in the adaptation process?
RENAUD: Expertise isn’t just, here’s the script, a recording schedule, a budget. It’s crucial to be able to partner the essence of the idea with how it gets localized. We have scripted development producers who do that, and they’re available from the very beginning of the commission through to helping to bring that story to life. There’s the comfort of knowing we’ve been through the process, we know the shortcuts, but the real piece is sharing ideas on how to progress characters in an organic way. We’ve done a lot of scripted adaptations, and that gives people comfort in knowing that we understand the nuances, story by story.
TV FORMATS: What are the prospects for the scripted format business in the year ahead?
RENAUD: I’m hopeful our business in Asia will continue to grow. There are opportunities for Spanish-language scripted format adaptations as well in the next year. There are a lot of conversations that we’re having across Central and Eastern Europe. I believe that will spark conversations throughout the Middle East and going back into Europe.
TV FORMATS: What new scripted formats are you offering at MIPTV?
RENAUD: We’re launching three scripted formats. The Mallorca Files is a lighthearted cop drama in which a British officer joins forces with a German detective to solve crime in Mallorca. Guilt, made for BBC Scotland, is a dark, contemporary thriller about two brothers in a botched hit and run. Traces, made for Alibi, follows three forensic investigators working on an unsolved murder case, and brings a whole host of dark secrets to the surface.