News MIPTV: Social Experiments On The Rise As U.S. Buyers Hunt For Formats; Comedies Eye Comeback

Television executives are always on the hunt for the proverbial Next Big Thing, and for the past year or so, the Mipcom and Mip-TV markets have emerged as important hubs where some of the hottest new formats are unveiled. Following a strong showing at last fall’s Mipcom, Keshet‘s Rising Star sold around the world, including to ABC in the U.S. What will be the breakout format at Mip-TV which kicks off tomorrow? With the U.S. reality market yet to yield a new tentpole franchise since NBC premiered The Voice three years ago, and most established series more than a decade old, the necessity of finding reinforcements is ever more urgent and means execs need to be constantly vigilant as to where the new possibilities may be hidden. Likening the search to digging for truffles, Jennifer O’Connell, head of Core Media’s U.S. Television Division, says, “We’re really going to be sniffing around everywhere.” It’s important to keep a “very open mind to where a great idea can come from.” Regardless of the provenance, U.S. broadcasters are more apt to take a second look “if someone else did it first… It can be almost like an insurance policy,” she says.

Most agree that the biggest proving grounds for new programming remain the UK, the U.S. and the Netherlands. Israel has also been coming on strong and Turkey has made in-roads, but one exec cautions, “People are looking at those territories because there’s not that much new coming from established places.” Turkey in the past year has seen its drama format The End (Son at home) set up at Fox by Ghost Whisperer alums Ian Sander and Kim Moses. While that series aired locally before it was sold, music competition In The Spotlight received a pilot order from CBS based on untried Turkish format, Keep Your Light Shining. A watcher says they are “impressed” how Global Agency, which reps the rights, “got CBS on board for a paper format.” Still, some remain skeptical until shows like The EndIn The Spotlight, and even Rising Star, make it to U.S. airwaves. Other areas buyers will be keeping a keener focus on include Ireland, Korea and China.

As for trends, execs point to the rise of social experiments. The daddy of them all right now looks to be Utopia. At the beginning of the year, Fox picked up the reality series from Big Brother creator John de Mol and his Talpa Media U.S. It’s based on a format by de Mol that successfully launched in the Netherlands and features a group of everyday people whisked to an isolated, undeveloped location for an entire year as they are challenged to create their own civilization. Fox also is understood to be in talks for a pilot order on Couples Retreat, a project that aims to help couples whose relationships are struggling, using an unconventional method: each agrees to spend a fantasy weekend with the opposite-gender partner of a similarly matched couple. That project hails from Red Arrow-backed Kinetic Content. Also from a Red Arrow company, Married At First Sight sees six singles who have failed to find love agree to marry a complete stranger. Produced by Snowman Productions, it debuted in Denmark last fall to strong ratings on DR3. It’s now been sold in more than 15 counties. Then there’s Eyeworks’ Adam Looking For Eve, which sets a man and a woman meeting for the very first time on a tropical island — bare-naked. It recently kicked off on Holland’s RTL 5.

Another format with buzz, this time out of Israel, is The Extra Mile. Produced by Studio Glam, which was founded by former Keshet Channel 2 Head of Entertainment and Reality Ami Glam and his wife Ilan, the competition reunites 10 divorced couples in a bid to win a big cash prize. The twist: they’re not in it for themselves, the money is to be put aside in a trust fund for their kids, and the ex-couples have to put aside their differences to work together. It will debut in about a month on Israel’s Channel 10. Core Media is also working on a new U.S. format inspired by a news article from China about a dance school where single people were able to find romantic pairings. Dance Your Heart Out will be based at a dance camp for the unlucky in love who will mix and mingle and take part in a dance competition. But it’s “not an elimination show. The point is to find love, and dancing is going to help couples get there,” says O’Connell.

Across all of these types of programming, an executive says, “There is a desire and need for social experiments and Utopia will have given confidence (to broadcasters) to give commissions.”

Other hot non-scripted formats include Keshet International’s Boom!, which made its first sale today to France’s TF1; and entrepreneur-focused Elevator Pitch, also from Keshet. Then there’s The Big Picture from Israel’s A Capella; and stranded sports celebs challenge Dropped from Zodiak Rights, among many others.

In scripted programming, the Mip and Mipcom markets have increasingly become a place to trot out high-profile English-language series. This go-round is no different with Red Arrow bringing the talent behind Amazon Studios crime series Bosch to town for a press conference; Starz Worldwide Distribution screening its Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson drama PowerBBC Worldwide enlisting Maggie Gyllenhaal to help promote seven-part drama An Honourable Woman; Atlantique Productions screening footage of the Frank Spotnitz-run second season of TNT pick-up Transporter The Series; and Amy Poehler and the stars and creators of Comedy Central‘s Broad City sitting down for a panel (which I am moderating) to discuss the web-to-TV transfer.

It’s not often we see comedies get a boost in the market. O’Connell remarks, “Drama has been so hot the last couple of years, but there hasn’t been a ton of comedy.” Core is partnered with Noreen Halpern in Halfire-CORE Entertainment, which is co-producing comedy Working The Engels with NBC and Canada’s Shaw Media for air in July. The show will debut the same night as Welcome To Sweden, the fish-out-of-water comedy created by Greg Poehler, which he is exec producing with sister Amy. Entertainment One is handling international on the series. It was just given a second season order by Sweden’s TV4.

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