Nick Smith, executive VP of formats at all3media international, talks to TV Formats about the game-show format Cash Cab, which has traveled extensively since its inception in 2005.
At some point over the course of the past 15 years, most New Yorkers (myself included) have secretly wished that the ceiling would light up with colorful squares as they sit down in the taxi they’ve just hailed. And most would know exactly what that means if it does: they’ve just become unwitting contestants on Cash Cab. The offbeat game show takes place right in the taxi as the host—who’s also the driver—asks passengers trivia questions. If the contestants answer correctly, not only do they get a free cab ride, they exit the vehicle with a sizeable amount of cash. If they answer incorrectly three times, though, they’re unceremoniously booted from the car wherever they happen to be and have to find another way to get to their destination.
Thankfully the opportunity to ride in the Cash Cab is not exclusive to New York—the game-show format has traveled extensively since its inception in 2005. “Cash Cab has performed well all over the world in every timeslot imaginable,” says Nick Smith, executive VP of formats at all3media international. “Cash Cab has currently been commissioned in 48 countries around the world, and we’re really determined to get the number up to 50 in 2020—its 15th year.”
The series actually began across the pond in London and was hosted by a real black-cab driver as it aired for two seasons on ITV. “I think it is fair to say it went largely under the radar,” says Smith. It wasn’t until Lion Television produced a U.S. version for Discovery later that same year that the format really took off. The American iteration featured a stand-up comedian (Ben Bailey) as the host, and many international variations have since followed suit.
In Israel, in particular, Smith points out, the series has really taken off, playing in prime time since 2007 and rating at the same level as some of the most expensive formats. “Cash Cab has become so ingrained in the culture that it has been featured in a number of other TV shows,” says Smith. “The Cash Cab and host drove into the garden of the Big Brother house in Israel to play the game with the housemates.” (And speaking of TV crossovers, who could forget comedian Tracy Morgan’s character taking a ride in the U.S. Cash Cab on an episode of 30 Rock.)
Cash Cab is recognizable on TV wherever viewers may be in the world, but it does have various international adaptations and tweaks, though the gameplay is fairly standardized. “We have approved some slight tweaks such as ‘Loot or the Boot,’ which runs in some countries and allows contestants after five questions to decide whether to exchange their winnings so far for the prize in the boot of the car—the only catch is they don’t know what it is!” says Smith.
The format continues to stay relevant because taxis are a popular form of transportation across the world—so even though the cabs look different in each version, the show itself is unmistakable and evergreen. And with the modern rise of ride-sharing apps, all3media international has recently signed two licensing deals for versions of the format that incorporate local taxi apps. “It really is the perfect format for these companies to be involved in,” says Smith. “Not only do they get to promote exactly what their business model is, but it encourages people to use their platform as maybe they’ll be hailing the Cash Cab!”
And not only is Cash Cab expanding its footprint around the world, but it’s also circling back to where it all began, with a new U.S. version of the series that bowed on Bravo last year. The series sticks to its traditional format for the most part, with two or three games per episode, Bailey hosting and, of course, the beloved shout-outs. For this iteration, in keeping with the times, passengers can ask for a social media shout-out as a lifeline. “When contestants are stuck, they can ask the host to go live on Facebook and appeal to fans of the show to share their opinion,” Smith says. “Also, some ‘Bravolebrities’ pop up throughout the season and join contestants on their rides.”
As for the future of the already-global format, Smith notes that the series has yet to be produced on the African continent, a market with huge potential. “We are keen to change that in 2020 and have optioned the formats to producers in a couple of African countries that are keen to get the show on air, so watch this space,” he says.