'How I Met Your Mother' is latest show to travel
Gather ’round, kids, and I’ll tell you the story of “How I Met Your Russian Mother.” Russia’s CTC network is close to sealing a deal with 20th Century Fox International TV to produce a localized version of the hit U.S. laffer “How I Met Your Mother.” Deal comes on the heels of 20th’s pact with Channel One Russia to develop a 22-episode version of “Prison Break.” And in the U.K., ITV has also been busy developing shows based on the 1990s 20th sitcom “Dharma and Greg,” as well as a new take on the studio’s 2007 drama pilot “The Oaks.” The pacts are all a part of 20th’s initiative to boost worldwide format sales of its scripted series. “We’ve had great success licensing our versions of shows as shot around the world,” said 20th Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman. “These shows can travel in incredibly powerful ways.” International productions of U.S. scripted formats are nothing new — local editions of “Law & Order” exist in the U.K., Russia and France — but still not common, as most studios opt to just sell the U.S. series to international territories (and don’t want to risk hurting those original series with local versions). But 20th Century Fox International TV prexy Marion Edwards noted that several territories were ripping off the U.S. studios and producing copycat versions anyway — such as an unauthorized version of “Prison Break” in China and a fake “24” in India. “We’d been battling countries from doing illegal versions of these shows. Why not do it legally?” she said. What’s more, for shows near or at the end of their life span, such as “Prison Break” and “24,” international licensing allows the studio to find new ways to keep the franchise going. Or, in the case of “The Oaks,” find a way to exploit something that originally didn’t even make it to air. In success, 20th hopes the localized formats might spark a renewed interest in the original — perhaps opening up a new window for an older show like “Dharma.” Or, in the case of something like “Prison Break,” which only lasted four seasons in the U.S. due to rising costs and declining ratings, an international version is one way to revive the brand and make more money off it on the global stage. 20th remains involved with the local productions in varying degrees, Edwards said. The studio will be much more involved with the adaptation of a franchise like “Prison Break” or “24,” both of which have a specific brand they should adhere to, compared to a comedy like “Mother,” which has a little more leeway to adapt to a territory’s sensibilities. “Bones” is another 20th show ripe for adaptation. Original U.S. show creators aren’t involved in the new versions, but they are briefed, and compensated, Edwards said. In most cases, the original U.S. scripts are used, but adapted for local consumption — and perhaps eventually veer off into original territory. That’s not unlike what has happened here in the U.S., where “The Office” initially followed the U.K. “Office” scripts before branching out on its own. Edwards said 20th has found more success adapting shows in territories where the TV industry is younger and have fewer seasoned writers and producers at their disposal. “Russia is uniquely interesting to us,” she said. “They’ve had success in formats and producing their own versions. There’s an avid TV audience there, but not a long history of creating writers and hit shows. Certainly the U.S. still has the deepest field of writers, which makes it an attractive business for them.” In Russia, CTC’s take on “How I Met Your Mother” comes following the broadcaster’s success with adaptations of two other U.S. sitcoms, “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Nanny.” The broadcaster is committed to producing as many as 40 episodes initially. The country’s GoodStoryMedia will produce the local rendition of “Mother,” and has already tapped Russian thesps Anna Kuzminskaya, Valentin Stepanov, Alexander Smirnov, Tatyana Fyodorovskaya and Skotnikow Alexander to star. As for “Prison Break,” the deal reps Channel One Russia’s first acquisition of a U.S. drama scripted format from a major studio. Red Square Cinema and Russian Project Studio will produce the series, which will launch this fall. Channel One already is in business with 20th, having acquired U.S. shows such as “24,” “Lie to Me” and “Modern Family.” Deal for “The Oaks” came about because ITV Studios managing director Lee Bartlett headed Fox Broadcasting’s business affairs department when “The Oaks” was developed. Bartlett was fond of that project — about three families living in the same home, but in different eras — and looked to resurrect it after arriving at ITV. ITV Studios is behind “The Oaks” with exec producers Kate Bartlett, Kate Lewis and Stephen Greenhorn, who is writing the adaptation. Both “The Oaks” and “Dharma” rep the first two commissions to come out of the collaboration deal previously struck by 20th and ITV. Beyond Russia and the U.K., 20th is about to announce more deals in other Eastern European countries.