Karen Smith, Tuesday’s Child CEO and managing director; Lisa Perrin, CEO of creative networks at Endemol Shine Group; and Sharon Levy, president of unscripted and scripted TV at Endemol Shine North America, talk to TV Formats about the reality-competition format LEGO Masters.
LEGO Masters has finally made its way across the pond, premiering in the U.S. on FOX last Wednesday, February 5. The high-energy reality-competition format sees every kid’s dream come to life: amateur LEGO builders compete in teams of two to create the most impressive and creative structures out of the classic colorful bricks. The U.S. version, which is produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and Endemol Shine North America, boasts comedian Will Arnett (BoJack Horseman) as its host.
Debuting in 2017 in the U.K. on Channel 4, the format was originally created by Tuesday’s Child, the indie production company behind game shows like Head Hunters and Man vs Robot. Karen Smith, the company’s CEO and managing director, tells TV Formats that she and her team were inspired by the nostalgia that LEGO carries, so they set out to make a new kind of talent show, “a colorful, moving, mischievous, funny one that celebrates the talent and passion of the world’s most brilliant and imaginative LEGO builders.”
The show scored great ratings for Channel 4, and Endemol Shine started rolling out international versions of the format. The company saw the global appeal because reality-competition series attract big audiences, and this particular format has the perfect blend of creativity, imagination and skill.
Germany’s RTL launched the series next, also with breakout success, and the German version stayed pretty true to the original. Smith was not surprised that global audiences took to the show so quickly. “We thought that if we got it right, this could have the potential to travel because of the breadth of LEGO’s reach and popularity and because we were building a format full of talent, personality, warmth, drama and humor, and a format with those values will appeal to audiences everywhere,” she contends.
The makers of other global versions implemented changes to the format, sizing up or down depending on their budget, market and time slot. Take Australia, for example, which changed the format quite drastically from its original iteration, bringing the show inside and supersizing it. As a result, contestants upped the ante with what they created, resulting in bigger, better and more exciting competitions. The Australian version also became more of a host-led show by having comedian and actor Hamish Blake in the studio, who aimed to get a bit more personal with the competition, getting to know the contestants and their unique personalities.
The U.S. version of the series seems to have taken a nod from its Australian cousin, building the show around a high-energy celebrity host and even adding celebrity-themed weeks. “Relatable hosts that add comedy value, they are all funny and enthusiastic. I can’t wait to see what Will Arnett brings to the U.S. when it launches, it’s going to be hilarious,” says Lisa Perrin, CEO of creative networks at Endemol Shine Group. It’s already been confirmed that Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Nicole Byer (Nailed It!) will make guest appearances, among a wealth of others yet to be revealed.
“What we did for the U.S. audience was add some meta-style humor and poked a little fun at traditional reality shows,” adds Sharon Levy, president of unscripted and scripted TV at Endemol Shine North America and an executive producer on the U.S. version. “Will Arnett is the perfect host for LEGO Masters. He is LEGO Batman, a dad with kids who also love LEGO as much as he does. His humor, empathy and the way he interacts with the contestants makes the show really special.”
In the meantime, Endemol Shine Netherlands has been commissioned by Dutch broadcaster RTL and VTM in Belgium to produce yet another version of the series, bringing the total to six local adaptations. Production is currently underway on that version, and it’s set to air later this year. What’s interesting about this deal is that it brings together two countries and broadcast partners in one show, as the series will feature four Dutch and four Flemish pairs competing together.
“What makes LEGO Masters unique is the way it celebrates creativity and diversity of characters and truly showcases the power of imagination,” says Perrin. Endemol Shine also has some upcoming deals in the pipeline for the format that have yet to be announced, centering in Northern Europe in particular. She also expects that after the U.S. debut of the show, international broadcasters will come clamoring to get a piece of the pie. “This format has true universal appeal,” she says.