Stephen Lambert & Nick Smith Talk The Hustler

Stephen Lambert, chief executive of Studio Lambert, and Nick Smith, executive VP of formats at All3Media International, talk to TV Formats about The Hustler, a new prime-time series for ABC in which deception is the name of the game.

Billed as the perfect show for budding detectives and those who love the art of cool, calm lying, The Hustler is a new prime-time series for ABC in which deception is the name of the game. Five contestants collaborate to answer questions correctly, in order to build the collective prize pot. One of them already knows all the answers, but everyone is under suspicion. If the Hustler can remain anonymous until the end, they alone will win the huge cash prize.

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The series is produced by Studio Lambert and All3Media America for ABC in the U.S., and All3Media International is handling sales. Based on an original concept from Richard Bacon, the game was tested with many run-throughs before taking the format out to the market. It was met with much enthusiasm by ABC, with a pilot that featured a traditional game-show set. “We then decided that there was an opportunity to do something different,” says Stephen Lambert, chief executive of Studio Lambert. “Along with ABC, we came up with this idea of an old library setting, a bit Agatha Christie. We loved that, and it’s become part of the format. It’s something that gives a great opportunity for the host to play detective. The host doesn’t know who the Hustler is, so they are playing along, too. Craig Ferguson does a brilliant job [as the host] in the American version and shows what can be done with this role.”

“The set is something special; it’s something you don’t traditionally see for a game on television,” adds Nick Smith, executive VP of formats at All3Media International. “I’ll admit that when Stephen told me that they were changing the set from the pilot into an antique library setting, I was a little bamboozled by that. I wasn’t sure it would work. I should learn to trust Stephen; I’ve known him many years. It’s been one of the things that viewers have picked up on and have loved the most. So, we want to make sure that in international versions, viewers also get transported into another world. It’s key to the format.”

The Hustler plays on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC in the U.S., but Smith says there’s flexible scheduling potential for international versions. “That’s the beautiful thing about this format. Although it doesn’t look like a traditional game-show format, it can be produced for the cost of a traditional game-show format. I’m sure it will play in prime time in a number of territories, but it is also possible to play as a daily strip in territories where there’s a need for that. It could also play off prime time. That’s such a bonus for us when we’re selling the format, it’s universal in where it can play in the schedule.”

Casting is going to be key with international versions, both Smith and Lambert agree, including making sure the various Hustlers have interesting facts to reveal about their lives and that local hosts are quick on their feet. “This is not like a traditional trivia-question quiz show,” Lambert says. “It’s very revealing in character. You really get to know the players.”

The performance on ABC bodes well for the format’s international rollout, Lambert adds. “There’s nothing more exciting than launching a brand-new show on an American broadcast network,” he says. “The Hustler is winning its time slot. ABC is delighted with it, and we’re keen to talk with them about doing more. The profile that you get from a launch on ABC is fantastic. Everybody looks to a new hit on an American broadcast network as something that gives you the confidence to say, I think we should try it in our territory.”

You can watch the World Screen Premiere of The Hustler, including the full panel discussion, here.