Oz improvises winning format

'Thank God' draws 1.6 mil, consistently wins target 16-39 demo

SYDNEY — While local versions of international formats such as “The Biggest Loser” and “Big Brother” have been hits Down Under for the Ten Network this year, an Aussie format, “Thank God You’re Here,” is getting ready for export.

“Thank God,” from Working Dog Prods. (“Frontline,” “The Panel”), bowed on Ten last month to boffo figures; auds are growing by the week.

Skein draws 1.6 million viewers and consistently wins the web’s target 16-39 demographic.

The concept is simple. Send well-known performers, generally comedians, through a door into a scene without any idea of what they’re walking into. Thesps must improvise their way through the next five minutes.

“What’s appealing is the concept of finding someone who can bullshit their way through anything,” says Working Dog exec producer Michael Hirsh.

The pleasure lies in watching the performer squirm, but for Hirsh, it was also in creating a successful local format in the face of competition from overseas skeins.

Network Ten programming director David Mott calls the show “completely different,” but adds that for a simple concept, it was difficult to describe. So Hirsh had to go to the Ten offices and act out the concept.

The web co-funded a pilot with Working Dog, and Fremantle Media took international rights at last month’s Mip TV mart in Cannes.

That coincided with the strong debut auds in Oz; Rob Clark, executive VP of worldwide production at Fremantle, says the figures helped create a buzz at Mip.

Clark adds that “Thank God” is easily transferable internationally and that there is strong interest from the U.K., Germany and the U.S.

Hirsh says the Working Dog team tested the idea extensively, and is happy with the results.

“It is very hard launching a program in the first place,” Hirsh says, adding that it’s even harder to launch an Australian program. “There are a lot of people who have popped their head up and been hit by a truck,” he adds.

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