Laura Burrell, head of formats at Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN), talks to TV Formats about Ex on the Beach.
With over 580 episodes commissioned in 15 countries, Ex on the Beach is nothing short of a format juggernaut. Sunny beaches and stripped-down singles provide a familiar framework for the series, but VIMN, MTV and producer Whizz Kid Entertainment have kept the twists and turns coming with various restructures, localized versions and all-star editions, with the format now moving toward celebrity iterations.
In August, MTV International announced that it’s prepping Celebrity Ex on the Beach, and last month, the network revealed that Ex on the Beach: Peak of Love, which takes ten international reality-star singletons to the mountains of New Zealand, is set to bow in the U.S. on December 5 before rolling out internationally in January 2020. And that’s not to forget the brand-new Ex on the Beach Brazil: Celebs, which is slated to debut in Latin America on MTV Brazil come year’s end.
Also recently unveiled is a long-term format partnership with Discovery Networks across the Nordic region, which will see the format extended into seasons seven and eight in Sweden—making it the longest-running version aside from the U.K. original—and seasons three and four in both Denmark and Norway. Discovery Networks also optioned the format in Finland. “It’s a huge commitment, it’s 144 episodes,” Burrell says. “It also includes the rights for each country to air each other’s versions on their VOD service dplay—which is where all the 16-to-24s are watching their shows these days. So it’s a huge deal, it’s a real mark of commitment to the format and the franchise and we’re delighted.”
The idea for the format dates back to 2013, when MTV’s Geordie Shore, itself a spin-off of the seminal reality classic Jersey Shore, became an instant hit in the U.K., spurring efforts by MTV and VIMN to expand the local content offering. Enter Whizz Kid Entertainment, which after pitching a different show about redemption in a sunny locale, worked with MTV to eventually come up with the current format. “And then they came up with this brilliant title of Ex on the Beach, being obviously a play on the cocktail,” says Burrell. “The other key thing was that we spent lots of time thinking about the very specific tone, which is that sort of cross between horror and comedy that you get with the exes coming out of the sea in sort of Jaws-like fashion and of course that brilliant tagline of ‘Whose Ex Is Next.’ All of that was created as they went along, and it all came together just beautifully.”
The format has had various twists, turns and tweaks added to it throughout the world and over the years. In order to fit local schedules, the format has had to be produced in different ways—there have been weekly iterations, stripped versions that aired five days a week and pretty much everything in between. This, coupled with the fact that the show has been a ratings hit on both MTV-branded channels and third-party broadcasters, proves the format’s versatility and flexibility, Burrell notes. In order to fill the longer running time, natural changes have to be made, she says, like adding more contestants or extra dates. “The Nordic versions have also had some twists—they had a cougar in the house, and they had twins in the house, so they’ve played around with casting,” she adds.
The U.S. version, though, has had the most changes to the structure itself, including the addition of an on-screen host and the inclusion of a raft of reality stars from the outset. Key elements like the Shack of Secrets—which is a secret room in the basement of the villa where, when an unlucky single’s ex would arrive, they would be sent so the ex could read all of their texts—and the Cut or Crush ceremony, where certain contestants could be ditched and new ones could come in.
Except for Geordie Shore star Vicky Pattison, who served to pull audiences over to the new show when it bowed in the U.K., the original cast of Ex on the Beach were all unknowns. That has changed now with the format journeying into the paparazzi-laden realm of Celebrity Ex on the Beach, which opens up a brand-new can of worms, the preferred bait of every reality-TV viewer. “I think going for the celebrity element will provide a new angle in the sense that because all of the cast members will already be known, I think they will have predetermined opinions of each other that they may have read in the press or based on their careers and what they’re famous for,” says Burrell. “And I think that could count against some of them in terms of trying to find love, so I think it will be a different dynamic in the villa.”
And at-home audiences will most likely also be already familiar with one or more of the celebrities’ exes as well, which will inevitably introduce anticipation about which ex will emerge from the sea. Social media buzz surrounding many of the already-Instagram-famous contestants is sure to introduce a whole new layer to the show’s thrill.
Burrell continues, “Having a celebrity version just feels like the next natural step to be honest. In some territories, we have had all-star versions already, but when I say all-star, I mean seasons where they’ve featured the most popular contestants from previous seasons. We’d already done that in a couple of territories, so going for a full celebrity version, it just felt like the right time for the franchise.”
The key markets the Ex on the Beach team is looking to crack in the next 12 months include Germany, Spain and Australia, which have proven highly competitive, with shows like Love Island, Paradise Hotel and Temptation Island already on the air. “But I’m confident that we’ll keep growing the franchise,” says Burrell. “We’d also quite like to have some further sort of Eastern European markets such as maybe Romania or Ukraine, some of those markets would be great to add, but to be honest, anywhere would be good, we’d welcome anywhere to the family.”