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‘Seat’ set to get up and go

French quiz hit spawns international editions

Like many countries, France tends to import light entertainment formats, not export them, leaving little room in the schedules for anything home grown.

So it is all the more surprising when a locally created quiz like “Hold on to Your Seat” emerges as a hit.

The show has steadily risen in the ratings since its launch last fall to reach a 21% lunchtime audience share for pubcaster France 2 — a close second to leading web TF1’s flagship quiz “Watch Your Step.”

And now it is poised to go international.

Producer Atomis Media, run by Endemol’s former Madrid-based chief operating officer Isabel Raventos, has acquired the rights for Spain. Discussions are also under way with gameshow producers in the U.S. and U.K., says the show’s creator and producer, Simone Harari.

Harari was the founding CEO of Gallic production and distribution heavyweight TeleImages, now part of the Marathon Group, before ankling to set up her own company, Effervescence, last year. (She is also president of the producers’ union USPA.)

While Brits and the Dutch have been at the forefront of format creativity these past several years, giving the world “Big Brother,” “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” France’s most prominent contributions have been “Fort Boyard,” well traveled but not exactly new, and “Des Chiffres et des lettres” — the format behind the U.K.’s long-running “Countdown.”

Like many programs in the genre, “Hold on to Your Seat” is a quiz show in which contestants answer questions to win money — nothing new there. But the rules of the game heavily stack the odds in favor of the current winner, meaning he or she will probably be back for another installment.

“The incumbent becomes a hero that people get to know and start rooting for. They want to see how long he can keep on defeating new challengers. It’s like a real-life soap,” Harari says.

The show, presented by wise-cracking TV host Nagui also steers clear of the tension that has been a hallmark of quiz formats in recent years.

“We wanted to make something that would be fun to watch, not stressful,” says Harari.

“Hold on to Your Seat” could prompt other producers to get their thinking caps on, which might persuade French broadcasters to give them a break.

“It is not easy when there is an Endemol on one side, a Fremantle on another. There is not a lot of room left, but I think we have opened a breach,” Harari adds.

Effervescence will launch a multiplayer online version of “Hold on to Your Seat” in the fall, which if it takes off, will be another selling point internationally.

“TV these days is one platform among many for creative ideas,” says Harari.

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