Comedian's 'Ref' trades on comedy, relevance

The hottest ticket in Cannes during the Mipcom market is for Jerry Seinfeld’s standup performance pumping up global interest in the comedy-reality hybrid he is producing, “The Marriage Ref” — and the show’s producers and international distributor hope that translates to sizzling sales.

“Everyone wants to go. I didn’t know I had relatives in Sweden,” says Seinfeld’s producing partner, Ellen Rakieten (“The Oprah Winfrey Show”). “He’s an international icon, and his name is priceless. What ‘Seinfeld’ did for the single life, this show will do for marriage.”

Icons aside, Rakieten believes centering the show around the topic of marriage means just as much as Seinfeld’s name attached.

“This is one of the great lessons I learned after 23 years with Oprah,” Rakieten says. “What we are going through here on a personal level is the same thing people are dealing with in Saudi Arabia. That shared, common experience will be the reason why viewers will watch.”

Endemol is shopping “Ref” to foreign TV outlets and producing localized versions of the show, which features couples airing their tiffs in front of a panel. The host/referee then makes the call on who’s right and bestows bragging rights to the winner.

“I’ve been going to the market for seven years and I’ve never seen anything of this scale,” says Tom Toumazis, chief commercial officer at Endemol Group. “Our expectation is that he will be a key part in selling this show.”

Toumazis adds that while the Seinfeld name helps, having him sell the product in person means even more.

“If you want to know the tone of the show, that’s going to come through in his standup,” Toumazis says. “It gives people a sense of his comedy.”

But those shoppers in the market need more than just some chuckles to buy into this series.

Toumazis says the international selling points for “The Marriage Ref” include interest in the common theme of married coupled with a show tailored for their local markets, with the bonus of an international star’s name attached to it.

“TV buyers’ reaction has been supportive, and there’s been a lot of interest,” Toumazis says. “Buyers know the reputation Jerry has as a creator and writer. His name resonates in markets around the world.”

The international success of “Seinfeld” aside, one concern about “The Marriage Ref” is how this humor will travel across the globe.

“We aren’t talking about selling a half-hour comedy internationally,” Toumazis says. “This isn’t something driven by storyline. I always appreciate when I hear the pitch how simple and immediate the reaction is. What we’ve found when we pitch it is that there is a positive reaction because the subject matter is universal.”

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