Firm plans U.S. Touchdown

Co. considers move to garner funds

AUCKLAND — Kiwi format cruncher Touchdown Television, which created “The Chair” and “Treasure Island,” is mulling a move to the U.S. to tap development coin and tighten its foothold in the reality formats biz.

Touchdown finances its own projects because funding is virtually nonexistent in New Zealand, but that is getting harder to do because high-concept reality shows are becoming big-budget productions.

“We are reassessing whether it is viable to continue doing our high-concept reality formats from New Zealand,” says Touchdown’s Julie Christie.

Production for local shows makes up half of Touchdown’s business, and Christie says some less costly format projects could still be done from New Zealand. Ideally, she would like to split her time between New Zealand and the U.S.

Touchdown’s new format is “Finding J. Smith,” marketed worldwide by London-based distributor Target.

Touchdown helped develop the show, created by Andrew Glassman, a U.S. producer who worked with Christie on “The Chair.”

“Finding J. Smith” debuted on pubcaster TV2. It drew average ratings in a tough 7:30 p.m. slot against top-rating U.K. soap “Coronation Street” on TV1 and “Charmed” on TV3.

Teams find as many people called J. Smith as possible to win money and a time-advantage in the later race to find a specific J. Smith.

The show raised eyebrows for heavily promoting its main backer, telco Vodafone Live.

Christie had to cut back on the advertiser involvement and tinker with the format to make it easier to follow.

The show starts soon in Thailand and Indonesia and has just launched in Austria and Germany.

Elsewhere Touchdown is marketing “Going Straight,” in which contestants have to follow a line drawn across a map and traverse obstacles along the way.

The format has been sold in France to independent production company B3com, run by Pierre-Antoine Boucly, formerly with Endemol France and producer of the Gallic version of “The Chair.”

“The Chair” is still running in 28 territories including the Middle East. “It was on Iraqi TV before the war; I’m trying to find whether it is back,” says Christie.