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Stefan Raab an unlikely TV star

ProSieben host set to become international mogul

BERLIN — He is obnoxious yet witty, irreverent and unconventional — but he’s got talent. Stefan Raab, a most unlikely Teuton TV star, has long been the creative centerpiece of the ProSieben empire.

In pubcaster-dominated Germany, TV exports haven’t done particularly well. German humor always seemed to get lost in translation.

But Raab — a self-deprecating host, producer, comedian, songwriter and singer from Cologne — is on his way to becoming an international TV mogul with the surprising success of his offbeat gameshow “Schlag den Raab” (Beat Your Host), a format that has been turned into an improbable German export success.

Originally produced by Raab TV and Brainpool for ProSiebenSat.1’s ProSieben channel, the show has become a winner for the group and its sales division, SevenOne Intl. So far 13 countries including Britain (“Beat the Star” on ITV1), France (TF1) and China have acquired the format. The latest being Sweden’s Kanal 5, which bowed “Vem can sla Filip & Frederik” (Who Can Beat Filip & Frederik?) last month.

In Germany, ordinary contestants are pitted against Raab in a marathon four-hour battle for a e500,000 ($670,000) prize. With up to 15 contests covering a broad range of wacky physical challenges like climbing up a sheet of ice, to mental competitions (such as a trivia quiz) and the mindless (tossing dried peas into a bottle), Raab’s show got a superb ratings of 31.5 share in the key demo 14-49 for ProSieben when it bowed in 2006, and has averaged a 25.8 share since, with six shows per year.

And that’s not his only show.

Raab has hosted ProSieben’s latenight yakker “TV Total” since 1999, where he can be hilarious or hideous. The son of a butcher trained to follow in his father’s footsteps, Raab went to law school but dropped out after two years. A self-taught musician, he made his breakthrough as a VJ on musicvid web Viva in 1996. Frumpy and sloppily dressed, Raab has the look of someone who just wandered in off the street.

Unlike most German celebs, Raab studiously avoids to the media (he was unavailable for comment for this article), and he aggressively and successfully shields his family from the public spotlight.

Raab created “TV Total.” Airing four nights a week, the latenight yakker, a la “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” ridicules other telecasts. Its popularity helps Raab attract A-list musicians and entertainers. Will Smith, Jackie Chan, Eminem (who mooned the aud), Elton John, Kylie Minogue (whom he tried to teach German with a Cologne accent) and Ben Stiller have all made appearances.

It’s Raab’s uniqueness that gave ProSieben pause when it considered the odds of “Beat Your Host” succeeding elsewhere.

“We were confident the show would work in Germany and had hopes the format could work abroad as well,” says Michael Ostermeier, a spokesman for ProSieben in Munich. “But Raab is such a one-of-a-kind person in Germany and so well known for his special form of entertainment. There’s no one like him anywhere. So we weren’t really sure how that would be resolved in other countries.”

Somehow, it has. And in Germany, according to Ostermeier, “Beat Your Host” is the most successful new start in German TV in the past three years.

Raab himself, naturally, has been a big part of the draw.

Raab also represented Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest, taking a respectable fifth place in 2000 for song “Wadde Hadde Dudde Da” — lyrics that made no sense in any language.

“I’m not an intellectual,” Raab was once quoted saying.

The 42-year-old is held in especially high regard by younger auds for his authority-defying style.

Raab can be unpredictably rude and yet somehow courageous. He climbed into the ring for a real live boxing match with one of the world’s top women boxers — and got a real broken nose at the hands of Germany’s Regina Halmich.

He invented annual races down high-speed alpine bobsled Olympic tracks — the Wok World Championships, with contestants sitting in Chinese woks — and gets outstanding ratings for the peculiar blend of serious athletics and entertainment.

To help ProSieben compete against the pubcasters during the European soccer championships, Raab produced and hosted a bizarre competition called “car ball” — where two cars driven by celebs battled it out to push a giant soccer ball up and down the field. It drew significant auds.

Thanks in part to his brash, boorish yet entertaining style, Raab was named one of Germany’s 100 most influential TV managers by the industry’s leading W&V newsletter last year.

“He’s the only entertainer in German TV who can put his own ideas into action,” W&K wrote. “Whether it’s ‘Beat Your Host,’ the ‘Stock Car Crash Challenge’ or ‘TV Total High Diving,’ when Raab’s name is on the label you can be sure there’s entertainment on the inside.”