Formats survive five years in Oz

Lifestyle, reality p'gramming appetite growing, O'Mara sez

SYDNEY — From learning how to jazz up homes and gardens to watching people try to be pop stars and get kicked off quizshows and islands, it seems Australians can’t get enough reality.

Hence, the mantra for Oz network program directors who are heading for Mip is, simply, “find more formats.”

Aussies were among the first in the world to become hooked on reality TV five years ago when the Seven Network launched “Who Dares Wins,” in which everyday folk attempted physically daunting feats.

And there’s no sign of the genre burning out, particularly as a raft of ever-more outlandish local shows is being developed and the commercial webs continue to scout the world for original formats.

“There is a growing appetite for reality and lifestyle programming,” Seven’s program director Chris O’Mara says. “I don’t see it waning, although when the cycle does burn out globally, it could burn out here first because we’ve had reality shows for five years, longer than most of the world. But I think the fad will last for another couple of years.”

Nine Network programming chief John Stephens concurs: “I think reality and lifestyle shows will still be pretty strong throughout this year.”

Nine, which chalked up solid ratings with “Survivor II: The Australian Outback,” is prepping an all-Oz version of “Survivor.” The web is narrowing the list of locations and starting to cast around for competitors.

The home of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” Nine aims to score with another innovative quizzer, “The Vault,” an Israeli concept that it’s developing as a co-production with King World.

Network Ten will soon launch “Big Brother,” for which a camera-rigged house is under construction at Queensland’s Dreamworld theme park.

It’s a very expensive undertaking, says Southern Star executive chairman Neil Balnaves, whose company has partnered with Europe’s Endemol Entertainment to produce Down Under’s version of the show. But he notes the program should generate profits in its second series, which he expects to be greenlit.

In the pipeline at Southern Star Endemol is “Big Diet,” a weight-loss show that eliminates those who shed the least and rewards the winner with gold weighing the equivalent of what he or she loses in pounds.

Seven’s most popular offerings this year include the quizzer “The Weakest Link,” “Popstars,” “The Mole,” “Temptation Island,” and infotainment series “The Great Outdoors” and “Better Homes and Gardens.”‘

O’Mara says he’s developing six to eight shows in the same style, and he’ll be on the lookout for other formats at Mip.

“We’re not looking to acquire much finished product,” says O’Mara, whose larder is stocked with output deals with 20th Century Fox, Disney, MGM and NBC, as well as supply deals with Granada and Carlton.

Similarly, Stephens says he’s developing a half-dozen reality/lifestyle projects and he’ll be hunting for formats at Mip.

Armed with output deals with Warner Bros., Paramount, DreamWorks, CBS Prods. and Hallmark (for miniseries and made-fors), Nine has limited need to acquire programs from other sources.

“We’re not interested in movies, telemovies, documentaries or children’s,” Stephens asserts. “We want formats more than anything else. Mip and Mipcom are also useful for spotting specials which can prop up timeslots and for sizing up U.K. reality, lifestyle or drama programs which may have escaped us.”

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