Quiz shows lead programming pack

HOLLYWOOD — Everyone predicted the format frenzy to fizzle, but U.S. broadcasters — along with most of the world’s TV biz — continue to gobble up reality and gameshow templates with zeal.

Millennial thoroughbreds “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Survivor” and “Big Brother” have set the global border-crossing standard. They were quickly followed by zany spinoffs such as Fox’s “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” and “Temptation Island” and, now, a new generation of inventive and button-pushing hybrids.

One of the most successful of the new crop is “The Weakest Link,” the BBC’s answer to “Millionaire” which features a sadistic hostess, Anne Robinson, who hurls insults at failing contestants. The quiz has topped Blighty ratings over the past year and is being adapted for the U.S. market with Robinson signed on as host. Series airs on NBC starting mid April.

Another quiz concept called “Test the Nation” from Dutch indie EyeWorks Media is currently grabbing attention in Europe (particularly in Germany) and may be headed to the U.S. via “Weakest Link” producer Phil Gurin.

“Test” is a multi-platform quiz format that puts various types of population groups (blondes, cops, celebrities) in the studio audience to the test. Each “event” episode is designed to tackle a different personal subject, such as intelligence, sexiness or decency.

The first show, “The National IQ Test,” scored a 44% share among 20- to 34-year-olds on fledgling Dutch net BNN in January. Some 100,000 home viewers played along with the show on the Internet.

“I call it discover-yourself-TV — it’s not about financial gain, it’s about personal gain,” says Reinout Oerlemans, a well-known TV personality in Holland who, together with two partners from the advertising world, started EyeWorks Media.

Another Dutch quiz entry, Endemol’s “Shafted,” was only just piloted in Europe and is already being eyed by one of the major U.S. nets, reports Endemol chief John de Mol. The quiz’s twist is that contestants are both given a blind choice at the end of the show to share the money pot or ditch — shaft — the other. Depending on how their answers match up, the person who opts to share could get shafted.

Meanwhile, Endemol’s first Stateside traveler, “Big Brother,” is being prepped for a second edition on CBS. De Mol says he’s paying closer attention to the requirements of the U.S. market, given the lukewarm reactions to the first series (which was also eclipsed by the success of CBS’ “Survivor”).

“I’ve learned you should listen very carefully to the American producers who work in this market daily,” he says, adding they’ll be making adjustments “in terms of casting, looks, pacing, editing and even the furniture in the house.”

Endemol has about a half dozen show commitments for various other properties including “Fear Factor” and “Spy TV” at NBC and “Chains of Love” at UPN. Endemol’s big pushes at the Mip TV mart are “Shafted” and “Starmaker,” a talent search reality format that’s currently in production in Holland in the old “Big Brother” house and airs on Dutch net Veronica.

In that same talent-reality genre, “Popstars,” which hails from Oz, made it on to the WB net earlier this year and may be returning for a second series.

Another wonder from Down Under getting some heat is “Single Girls,” originally produced for TV New Zealand. It’s a reality ‘Sex and the City,'” says Alison Rayson, who reps both “Popstars” and “Single Girls” via London-based Target Distribution.

“Single Girls,” like most of the newer generation of formats, actively involves the Internet. “Dating on the Internet is big,” says Rayson, adding that the Internet is a key element in the audition process of the show and that men can pitch for a dates with the “Single Girls” via the Internet once the show is under way.

Another relationship show, Action Time’s “Extreme Date,” also involves the Internet as the gateway to various interactive elements. The format focuses on three couples whose marriages are at a breaking point and are then forced to go on a highly charged date together with a psychologist in tow. Viewers can “play along” by taking a personality quiz that reveals how they would measure up in a similar situation, says Caroline Beaton, head of intl. at Action Time.

On the reality-adventure front, the WB has optioned a Norwegian challenge format originally called “71 Degrees North” that will be renamed Stateside. “It’s ‘Road Rules’ meets ‘Survivor,’ ” says Brian Frons, senior VP, programming at SBS Broadcasting. SBS’s Norwegian TV station dreamed up the concept with Scandi producer Nordisk.

Formats fit nicely into SBS’s programming strategy, which is to team up with local producers in the various markets it operates channels. “Ultimately, your success as a TV station in the minds of the public lies in local production,” says Frons, adding, “We own the rights to ‘Survivor’ in Switzerland, and the costs went down on the second (edition).”

Format stalwart Pearson Television is taking production partnerships to another level and is set to strike deals with TV creatives in key territories.

Additionally, Pearson’s senior exec VP, entertainment, David Lyle, has relocated to Los Angeles to facilitate format traffic to and from the U.S.

“The response has been encouraging in the sense that (American execs) are keen to talk about formats and to have a look at the sorts of things that are making their way through Europe,” Lyle says. “But the proof will be in the selling!”

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