Rob Clark, the director of global entertainment at Fremantle, tells TV Formats about the company’s new formats that are on trend.
Clark keeps a close eye on what audiences around the world are craving and how buyers are responding. In these challenging times, he sees a need for entertainment that the whole family can come together to watch. This includes game shows, which are “red hot at the moment,” according to Clark. He spoke to TV Formats before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
TV FORMATS: With the powerhouses of Fremantle and Syco reteaming for a talent competition, Battle of the Judges seems primed to break out in what some believe is too tough a space to challenge. Why can this show become a staple prime-time entertainment piece around the world?
CLARK: It is a tough area to be in, but it’s one where we’ve been very successful. We do have a pedigree and production know-how in that area. In France on M6, it is a spin-off of Got Talent. That primarily will be its role. But there’s no reason that it should only be a spin-off of Got Talent if countries are interested in it.
The format itself is very strong. It’s borrowed from a number of sporting activities. It has great battles between the judges, but there are also duels between the individual talent acts. They are all matches: one talent versus another talent. It also has borrowed from sports in the way it pulls the name of the act out of a metaphorical hat. Like sport, there’s a lot of theatricality about it. What comes through is the absolute passion of the judges. They’ve all known these talents; out of the six on their team, perhaps five would have been on a previous season of Got Talent. They have chosen them, so it’s very much their act.
I genuinely really like it! I love watching sport, and I like talent shows, so I like the gloves-off competitive nature that this format highlights.
TV FORMATS: A show like Small Town, Big Love has the authenticity and feel-good quality that audiences are craving. How do you see that show being scheduled around the world?
CLARK: The concept is, in a lot of small towns, the men tend to stay more than girls; girls head off for the bright lights of the city. So there are these relatively successful guys, these are not losers, who just can’t find love. It’s playing on TV2 in Denmark, which is their biggest commercial network by a long way and is performing above the network average. You can see that it’s authentic.
There are generally two types of dating shows. You either format the hell out of it, and it becomes just a great bit of television; it’s very glossy and very formatted. Or, there are others where the format has [identified] a need in society and then tells that story. There are format points to this, but they are very gentle; it’s really story-led.
The interesting thing about this show is that once it’s got you, it keeps you. I think it can survive in the white-hot heat of prime time on a big network. It’s doing that in Denmark, which is one of the leading broadcast platforms for launching international formats; there are a lot of big shows in Denmark that have been imported as well as homegrown. If it works in Denmark, it should work elsewhere.
TV FORMATS: Does it offer flexible scheduling potential? Could it be stripped across the week?
CLARK: It could be. We learned an important lesson recently: one of our long-running formats, Farmer Wants a Wife, is stripped across the week for the first time ever, in Portugal. It’s been an absolute runaway success. This show has all of the elements that it could be stripped across the week. There are certainly enough stories. It has the flexibility that broadcasters not only like but really need at this time in the cycle of production and broadcast.
TV FORMATS: What types of conversations can Surviving… can bring up for society?
CLARK: Last year on Channel 4, we did 60 Days on the Streets, and now we’re doing 60 Days with the Gypsies. Internationally, we’re calling it Surviving…. I think it will do well with public broadcasters. It talks to the audience about what it’s like living on the edge of society, which is increasingly important.
TV FORMATS: As Fremantle is known as the “Home of Gameshows,” what’s working well in that space?
CLARK: The runaway success this year is Family Feud. We’re still selling it—there are some territories that have never had it, believe it or not—and we’re reselling it. It just keeps coming back. In that sense, it’s a hearty annual.
In America this year, we’re going to have seven game shows in prime time. In the U.K., we’re about to launch Epic Gameshow on ITV. It’s an amalgam of all the library shows. However, there are shows around that are new and doing very well. Over the summer, we will launch Rolling In It. It’s a classic game show and is very, very clever. Season one does not look like “season one”—it feels like it has been around for a long time; it has its own language. It’s really good!
Then we have On Top of Your Game that did very well again in Denmark. This is a celebrity-based board game. Two teams of two celebrities play a board game that is on the studio floor, rolling a big dice, and when they land on the square, they have to do whatever the square says. It could be a tasting game, a party game, a sporting game. The interesting thing about this is that it does not need an audience. It’s a very scalable, transferrable concept, and it’s a lot of fun. If you think about it, when there’s a crisis—particularly like the one at the moment, which is not just a financial crisis but a health crisis—you want to keep your family close to you. There’s nothing more “family” than a board game. It’s just great fun. I watched it even before it was subtitled, and I don’t speak Danish but understood exactly what was happening. It’s not serious; it’s played for laughs. It’s an hour of good family entertainment.
Game shows are red-hot at the moment. You rarely need an audience for a game show; they make a lot of noise, but you can do that in a post-production environment. You can make a lot of them, they’re quite economical, and they’re a quick turnaround. So, we see a lot of activity around that whole catalog.
TV FORMATS: Given the current climate, what other genres are trending for formats, and how is this a reflection of the times?
CLARK: In 2008, there was an economic recession, and Hole in the Wall had a record-breaking rollout. It was a completely bonkers concept. It was owned by Fuji, we did a worldwide deal, and we sold it in more territories in one year than any show has ever sold before. Cut to 2020, and you’ve got another bonkers show, The Masked Singer. We don’t own it, but we have a lot of [rights] that we’ve managed to acquire. That show is performing unbelievably well everywhere.
At this time, people want their news to be serious and informative, and their entertainment to be family, funny and totally bonkers. They need a diversion!
We had not had a sale of Hole in the Wall for about five years. And it’s just been on-air and done extraordinarily well in Argentina, where it had not been on the air in over ten years. I genuinely think that that’s what audiences want; consequently, if broadcasters are in-tune with their audience, then that should be what they’re asking for.
This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic. All media companies are currently shifting their strategies in the wake of production postponements.