Mip TV: Broadcasters have ‘500 Questions’ On Their Mind

Warner Bros, positions Brunett/Darnell gameshow format as The Next Big Thing.

CANNES – Four years after “The Voice,” if Mip TV was anything to go by ABC and Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution are unabashedly pushing a candidate as the Next Big Breakout or even The Next Big Thing: ABC’s primetime event game-show “500 Questions.”

And foreign buyers look as if they’re buying into the proposition.

500 Questions” does have creative pedigree. It’s exec produced by Mark Burnett, and created by Mike Darnell, prexy of Warner Bros.’ unscripted and alternative TV division.

In Warner Bros.’s big push at Cannes, and one of the biggest and splashiest of any U.S. newbie project, Burnett, Darnell and CNN’s Richard Quest, the show’s host in its ABC version, took to the stage Monday night at Mip TV to preview the gameshow, which is produced by Warner Horizon Television (“The Voice,” “The Bachelor”) and Burnett’s United Artists Media Group, with WBITVD selling overseas format rights.

The response? “We have an overwhelming response from every major broadcaster that we’ve talked with in the last two days” including many broadcasters ready to make competitive bids before the show even goes on the air.,” Jeffrey Schlesinger, WBITVD prexy said Tuesday afternoon.

He added he expected to close deals “in the next couple of weeks” before ABC’s May 20 launch. Territories where major broadcasters are showing very strong interest include Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Scandinavia.

On “500 Questions,” players answer difficult general knowledge questions at 10 seconds per question. There’s no multiple choice. Contestants can make multiple educated guesses. They don’t earn money unless they get through the first 50. Three wrong answers in a row and they’re eliminated.

“Currently, there has not been a big event game which crosses over several nights or weeks where you’re connected to a one or two pieces of talent like you are in a reality show: Think about ‘Survivor,’ ‘Idol,’” Darnell told Variety at Mip TV.

But “500 Questions” “is not about the money but the journey: How far the contestants, who are geniuses, can go,” Darnell added.

“The challenge for ‘500 Questions’ is that there hasn’t been a successful primetime gameshow in the U.S. for many years. And the producers have to maintain tension over 500 questions,” said TV analyst Bertrand Villegas at the Wit.

Since “The Voice,” the road to The Next Big Thing has been littered with corpses: Just last June, ABC had a clunker with play-along “Rising Star,” which was not renewed for the 2015 Summer season.

But ABC and WBITVD are certainly challenging for that crown, or at least for a big breakout. With the show going out during the May sweeps, and constructed to only be a primetime show, ABC is aiming for event status with “500 Questions,” airing it nine hours from May 20 over seven consecutive nights.

The last primetime gameshow that had any success was 2007’s “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” — produced by Burnett, and aired by Darnell during his tenure at Fox.

“It’s been eight years since a primetime game show’s been successful. We think the time and cycle is right for a primetime gameshow. There’s nothing like this on the U.S. right now. It’s easy to adapt, relatively inexpensive to produce for a show that has this kind of look, and very flexible,” Schlesinger enthused.

And he certainly wasn’t playing cautious at Mip TV: “I think buyers feel that, unlike shows which have been presented with a lot of fanfare in the last year or two, this show has the substance and credibility of its production auspices to deliver on the promise.”

The Next Big Thing? “500 Questions’” candidature is served.

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