David Broome was stuck in traffic on the 101 freeway when the idea for “Ultimate Beastmaster” first came to him.
“I thought, What if I could basically take ‘Mario Bros.’ and bring it to life?” Broome said. “That would be the ultimate obstacle course.”
The Beast is quite the obstacle course. Six-hundred feet long and 85 feet tall at its highest point, it is the centerpiece of “Ultimate Beastmaster,” which premieres Friday on Netflix. But the show’s ambitions are not limited to the scope and scale of the challenge it presents contestants — 108 athletes from six different countries competing to the best the Beast.
Executive produced by Broome and Sylvester Stallone, “Ultimate Beastmaster” is Netflix’s first big swing at a television-style reality competition series, and it is tailored to the streaming service’s business model. Broome and his company 25/7 productions have created six different versions of each of the first season’s 10 episodes geared toward six different territories — the United States, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Germany, and Japan. Each version is edited differently. Each features its own pair of announcers speaking in the country’s native language. (The U.S. version is hosted by “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Terry Crews and Fox Sports’ Charissa Thompson).
“I can’t think of anything I’ve seen on any platform where the first competitor you see speaks in German on a U.S. show,” Broome says. “Then the next one is in Korean. I think our fifth competitor actually speaks English. I also think it’s coincidentally very timely to be talking about this international mashup.”
Unscripted programming typically travels across borders in formats that are adapted to new versions unique to their respective territories — “Pop Idol” in the U.K., “American Idol” in the U.S. But for Netflix, which releases most of its original programming on the same day and date across all territories, Broome has crafted an international competition series that the streaming service hopes will play equally well in all markets.
“We’re trying to capture the true global feel of a global platform, which is what Netflix is,” Broome says. “This is not just sitting there and subbing and dubbing, which we are doing in other countries as well. But this is embracing the international aspect of Netflix.” When Broome pitched the show to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, he billed it as “our version of the Olympics.”
Broome describes his office at 25/7 as looking, in the midst of production, “like an International House of Pancakes,” filled with Korean-, German-, and Portuguese-speaking editors. Another challenge: filming a shiny-floor reality show in 4K, which all Netflix shows are shot in.
“It’s one thing if you’re going to make ‘House of Cards’ or ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ and you’re going to use one, two, three 4K cameras on a beautiful scripted show,” Broome says. “I used more than 50.”
As with its other originals, it will be a mystery after “Ultimate Beastmaster” premieres as to how successful it is at drawing an audience, as Netflix declines to release viewership data for its shows. But as the service’s first attempt at reality programming, it is not a low-stakes effort. Speaking at a financial conference in November, Netflix Sarandos said that “unscripted television is a very interesting business,” and that the company would focus on shows that are “more likely to travel internationally.” He added, “When ‘Beastmaster’ hits in Korea, they’ll never have seen anything like it.”
But in attempting to break the mold, Netflix did not break the bank.
“I think everybody sees the sexy headlines with Netflix looking like they’re writing these huge checks across the board for things,” Broome says. “For this series, it wasn’t about getting more money. It was coming up with an efficient way to make this show and coming up with a creative production model behind that. In fact I will tell you that there are plenty of shows on network television that cost more money to make than ‘Ultimate Beastmaster’ did.”
That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t hard work. The Beast, which Broome refers to as the show’s main character, took eight months to build — six months of creating parts in two different factories, two months of assembling those parts at the show’s set in Santa Clarita. Then there is the tech and manpower required to produce 60 hours of reality show shot in 4K.
“It was tremendously difficult and labor intensive,” Broome says. “We shattered the ceiling of what has ever been attempted before on Netflix or anywhere else.”