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Mipcom buyers have game plan

Entertainment returns to wholesome family fare

CANNES — It’s no coincidence that when Endemol, makers of “Big Brother,” displayed its latest format at last week’s Mipcom mart, it turned out to be a good old gameshow, “20Q.”

The shingle even went as far as to redecorate a Carlton Hotel salon as a TV studio and stage an episode, with its clients as the audience.

Entertainment worldwide is returning to back-to-basics, wholesome fare for all the family.

Although big-budget U.S. drama skeins — including “Fringe,” “The Mentalist,” “90210,” “Knight Rider,” “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Castle” — generated plenty of buzz, it was the demand for retro gameshows, often sweetened by cash prizes, that repped the most noticeable shift in buyer interest.

“There’s a trend toward more traditional feel-good family entertainment, simple gameshows and variety shows,” says Bertrand Villegas at audience research outfit the Wit, who cites Endemol’s “Wipeout” and “Spin Star,” starring an enormous Las Vegas-style five-reel jackpot machine; ITV Global Entertainment’s “Color of Money,” variety slot “For One Night Only”; and FremantleMedia’s quizshow “Opportunity Knocks.”

“Family games are back. People are desperate about winning money on TV. The shows are more traditional, with family values,” says Stefano Orsucci, director, entertainment channels, Sky Italia, predicting “Color of Money” could be a smash.

One trend-driver is the success of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” says ShineReveille Intl. prexy Chris Grant.

Another is economics.

By some estimates, TV ad market revenues could fall off in some major markets by 5%-10% next year.

“There are gameshows that are made in the U.S. that are as expensive as reality. Traditionally, however, game is less expensive than reality,” says Grant.

Paul Romer, Endemol’s global head of programming, agrees.

“You can see the first signs of the credit crunch sneaking into the television business: the need for high-volume, low-cost programming,” he says.

Endemol has made “Wipeout” even cheaper by producing it in Argentina.

When a show nails the zeitgeist, it can fly. ShineReveille Intl.’s hottest Mipcom ticket, says Grant, was reality-gameshow hybrid “Desperate Measures,” which gives contestants on the brink of financial ruin the chance to clear up debt.

It is not just the gameshows that are benefiting from the appetite for feel-good programming.

FremantleMedia Enterprises CEO David Ellender says besides continued interest in fun and comedic physical gameshows, like “Hole in the Wall,” dating shows may also be making a comeback, with buyers checking out “Take Me Out.”

Jeremy Fox, CEO of the Digital Rights Group, points to a growing appetite for comfort food: sentimental fare like “This Is Your Life,” while the “nastier,” more cutthroat elimination shows, like “The Apprentice,” are no longer flavor of the month.

A similar trend can be noted in the market for long-form dramas.

DRG’s Julie Walters starrer “A Short Stay in Switzerland” is about euthanasia, but because of its uplifting, life-affirming tone, buyers have warmed to it.

Drama skeins that put a new spin on traditional yarns, like “Merlin” and “Crusoe,” also struck a chord with buyers, who have been drawn to safer bets from tried and tested teams rather than riskier propositions from unproven talent.

Peter Iacono, prexy-managing director of ITV Global, says “Britannia High,” a skein set in a performing arts school, and “Dear Prudence,” a murder mystery tale, have also tapped into the vibe for safe, familiar fare suitable for whole family viewing.