‘Dine’ shines outside U.S.

Food skein illustrates anomalies of formats

Local versions of reality format “Come Dine With Me” eat up audiences from Munich to Melbourne — except in the U.S., where it has gone hungry.

In Germany, where it airs on Vox five days a week, Granada Germany has made 1,000 episodes of “Dine,” in which amateur chefs host a dinner party and compete for a cash prize.

In Blighty, the program has seized the reality crown from older formats like “Wife Swap” on Channel 4, emerging as one of the network’s tentpole shows.

Its sarcastic narrator, David Lamb, is a cult hero. There are celebrity spinoff versions of the skein, and in the U.K. it packs a punch against heavy hitters like “The X Factor” and “Got Talent.”

For ITV Studios, the property has generated more than $88 million — making it the firm’s third-highest-earning format after “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”

But “Come Dine With Me” has proved a tough dish to serve in the U.S. Cable web TLC dropped the show (titled “Dinner Takes All”) after only one season, while reports that NBC is developing a celebrity version of the show have so far failed to lead to a firm series commitment.

ITV Studios remains confident that “Come Dine With Me” can become a fixture on U.S. viewing menus.

“For the same reasons the show has worked everywhere else, I believe ‘Come Dine With Me’ can be a hit in the U.S. market,” says Tobi de Graaff, ITV Studios’ director of global television distribution.

“It is addictive, compelling viewing. Our American team is working hard in conjunction with a network. … We’ve got to get the production quality, the casting and the narration right.”

ITV has reason to be optimistic over the Stateside prospects for “Come Dine With Me.” In the U.K., the show had to be resuscitated before it became a primetime hit.

Created by ITV executive producer Nell Butler, the show bowed on Channel 4 in 2005 as part of its daytime lineup, but the success of rival Endemol format “Deal or No Deal” forced it off the air.

In 2007, Helen Warner, 4’s new controller of daytime programming, decided to bring back the format and screen it in primetime.

“I don’t think anyone expected it would explode so quickly,” she said recently, adding that “it holds its own against ‘The X Factor,’ ‘Dancing on Ice’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent.’ ”

“The Saturday slot went from hundreds of thousands of viewers to around 3 million. At that point, international sales went crazy.”

Like all salesmen, de Graaff sounds confident that at Mip “Come Dine With Me” will once again be in demand.

“Judged by the success we’ve had in Germany, there is no reason why ‘Come Dine With Me’ can’t obtain the kind of long-term success that the best soaps achieve,” he says.

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