NBC Bets On Better Late Than Never

Paul Telegdy, president of the alternative and reality group at NBC Entertainment, and Meredith Ahr, president of the new Universal Television Alternative Studio, tell TV Formats about adapting a hit Korean show for American audiences.

Better Late Than Never was given a massive promotional platform this summer, with ads for the new travel-reality series airing throughout NBC’s Olympics coverage.

Premiering tomorrow night on NBC, the show features Henry Winkler, William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman traveling across Asia***Image*** with comedian Jeff Dye. It is based on the wildly successful Korean format Grandpas Over Flowers from CJ E&M. It is the first launch for the recently announced Universal Television Alternative Studio, which produced the series in association with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron’s Storyline Entertainment, Small World IFT and CJ E&M.

Paul Telegdy, the president of the alternative and reality group at NBC Entertainment, tells TV Formats that one of the most important elements in the adaptation was getting the right message across.

“We live in a time when xenophobia and classification by ethnic origin seems to be a hot topic,” Telegdy says. “In some people’s minds there is a demarcation across age: [they think that] old people are xenophobic and small-minded. So when you take four gentlemen of a certain age to a foreign country, you want to land the tone absolutely right. These four are leaders and role models for a kinder, gentler and more inclusive time. They say the nicest things about the countries they visit and the inclusion they feel. I guarantee that the average American watching this show is going to say, ‘I want to go there!’ By the way, that has not been the job of American television when you really think about shows that go overseas. Yes, there are plenty of travelogues on cable, but when you think about what networks put out about the international world, it does seem like it is a perilous, dangerous place. These guys approach it wide-eyed—the world is great, it’s not dangerous or frightening to visit. That’s a very important message of the show. It feels kind.”

Meredith Ahr, the president of Universal Television Alternative Studio, quips that the new series is like “The Bucket List meets The Hangover.” When casting, the producers solely focused on “national treasures,” Ahr says. “Henry Winkler, George Foreman, William Shatner and Terry Bradshaw have 99 percent awareness and approval ratings across broad demographics because of all the types of entertainment they’ve touched over the years and how resilient their careers have been.”

In the original series on CJ’s tvN network, four veteran Korean actors went backpacking in Europe. Ahr notes, “For them and for their audience, that was a fish-out-of-water scenario.” For Better Late Than Never, Ahr says the producers were keen to have the show’s four travelers “take the audience on a joyride…a journey to places so foreign for most people, and make the audience feel like they really went on the trip with them. [You can experience the] mayhem that happens when you have these four men of a certain age experiencing Asia with their wit and their crankiness and all of the things that go along with true travel. And afterward you feel like you learned something. You also laugh a lot along the way.”

The one-hour series travels to Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul, Hong Kong, Phuket and Chiang Mai.