LONDON — All3Media’s new international boss Wayne Garvie is no stranger to rejection.
Several years ago, while running BBC Worldwide’s global production activities, every U.S. network told him emphatically that a reality show based on something as uniquely British as ballroom dancing would never succeed with American audiences.
“It took one U.S. executive to take a gamble on it to make it work,” he recalls.
The BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” morphed into ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” More than 10 seasons later, the show is still a fixture on ABC’s primetime schedule and is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the most successful reality format of all time.
Garvie, meanwhile, has moved on. He quit BBC Worldwide last year, where he also played a pivotal part in the global rollout of another BBC staple — auto show “Top Gear.”
In January, Garvie began a new job as managing director of international production at U.K. mega-indie All3Media, where he hopes to repeat the success of “Dancing With the Stars” with a format created by one of the 20 or so shingles All3Media owns.
Inevitably, the litmus test for any of these formats is the U.S., which Garvie claims is growing tired of shows like “American Idol,” and where the hunger for a fresh hit is more acute than usual.
“There is a big opportunity in the world at the moment. Everyone is waiting for the next breakthrough,” he says. “That is what we have got to satisfy by creating something that is palpably different to what has gone before.”
Garvie adds, choosing his words, carefully, “I’m not necessarily sure we want a lot more judging shows. That subgenre seems to me to be slightly exhausted.”
CEO Steve Morrison, who co-founded All3Media in 2003, is determined to increase his company’s U.S. revenues, which are expected to exceed $100 million this year.
Improving All3Media’s perf in the U.S. comes at a critical time for the shingle.
Last month All3Media confirmed it was on the market by announcing a strategic review. That’s expected to end later this year, with a sale carrying a pricetag of at least $1 billion — provided someone will fork over enough coin to satisfy the producer’s majority owners, private equity outfit Permira.
Potential U.S. buyers include Warners, which last year acquired U.K. shingle Shed, and NBCUniversal, which has bought several smaller British indies including drama specialist Carnival (“Downton Abbey”) over the last two years.
Garvie is confident All3Media can raise its game in the world’s toughest entertainment market and, in the process, impress would-be buyers.
He cites the recent U.S. success of reality skein “Undercover Boss,” created by All3Media-owned Studio Lambert, run by Eli Holzman, creator of “Project Runway.” Created for the U.K., the American version is a hit for CBS, attracting auds in excess of 12.5 million per show.
Garvie is spending a lot of his time in Los Angeles recruiting U.S. executives to run North American arms of other All3Media shingles such as Maverick and North One.
“The one thing that I have learned in recent years is that if your heartbeat is British, you also need an American skin,” Garvie says. “It is essential to have someone on the ground in L.A. or New York who can interpret intellectual property.”
Garvie says the company is looking for execs who are entrepreneurial.
“Our business is all about talent. We want people who can run a company, who can pitch and who can create intellectual property that travels around the world.”
If that sound like a tall order, other shows created by All3Media shingles that have made inroads in the U.S. include edgy dramas “Shameless” and “Skins” (both made by Company Pictures in the U.K.). Other successful shows include those fronted by chef Gordon Ramsay, made by his One Potato Two Potato joint venture with Optomen, which already has a Los Angeles office and co-produces the U.S. version of “MasterChef.”
One All3Media show creating a lot of buzz in the U.K. is reconstructed reality skein “The Only Way Is Essex,” a breakout hit for youth-orientated digital web ITV2, produced by Lime Pictures, which may be Blighty’s answer to “Jersey Shore.”
It follows the lives of a group of wealthy youngsters and their friends living in Essex, a county to the east of London. The show is filmed only a few days in advance and features real people in “modified” situations, saying unscripted lines.
” ‘Essex’ is about fantastic casting, and American TV excels at that,” he says. “If soaps had never been invented that is what they would be like now.”
Whether the show can translate into another “Dancing With the Stars” is anyone’s guess.