When A. Smith & Co. pitched one of their latest reality ideas to ABC in spring 2008, they were pleased the network loved the pitch — but surprised when execs wanted the show in only a few short months for their summer TV season.
That program was “I Survived a Japanese Game Show,” which ran on ABC in the summers of 2008 and 2009. A. Smith had to create and shoot the show in Japan, and Japanese law requires foreign TV companies to have a Japanese television sponsor, so A. Smith’s principals, Arthur Smith and Kent Weed, recruited Taiyo Kikaku, predominantly a producer of television commercials, to help them.
As it turned out, A. Smith’s relationship with Taiyo Kikaku has outlasted the reality-game hybrid on which it was founded. In June, the two companies signed a deal to co-develop and produce television and online content for distribution in the U.S., Japan and across the globe.
“We talked to a number of production companies (about ‘I Survived’) and only one – Taiyo Kikaku – said we’ll try it. We soon found out that they were crazy like us. That craziness became the base for a beautiful relationship,” says Smith, the company’s namesake, co-founder and CEO.
“They’ve watched our shows, and they love them and they are big fans of our company. It was very important to them to get the Japanese rights to our ideas and our formats. It grew from there. They were so interested in a lot of our formats and in us helping them with their business – there are so many parts to this deal – that it became critical that they were officially aligned with us.”
The international arena of unscripted television is mostly dominated by format exchanges, where one region imports a show to another region, like “Survivor,” “Big Brother” and “American Idol” were imported to the U.S., and shows like “America’s Next Top Model” and A. Smith’s own “Hell’s Kitchen” are exported to other countries. International co-productions are, however, rare.
“I don’t think there’s that many co-productions in the unscripted world,” says Smith, “but a lot of people are looking beyond borders. That’s a trend that started a few years ago.”
Smith and Weed both say that while they are open to other international co-production deals, their deal with Taiyo Kikaku is unique and based on the relationship that the two companies developed while working on “Japanese Game Show.”
“We believe in taking risks,” says Smith. “That’s what ‘Japanese Game Show’ was. That’s what ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and ‘The Swan’ were a long time ago. We believe that you have to shake things up because viewers get tired, and they get complacent.”
A. Smith’s latest risk is a docu-reality series featuring Hilton heiress and celebutante Paris Hilton, her mother Kathy and friends including Charlie Sheen’s estranged wife, Brooke Mueller, and former Playmate Jennifer Rovero.