Michael and David Uslan, the father and son producing team with credits that include “The Dark Knight” and “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch” have struck a cluster of deals that makes them a two-way conduit for TV formats between Hollywood and Asia.
U2K, a company that includes the Uslans and Jon Karas (“Believe in Me,” “Shadows” and “Checking Out”), has recently struck deals with top rights owners in China, India and South Korea to bring their content to Western audiences.
And, with the purpose of taking content from West to East, U2K has struck a first-look deal with Renegade 83. The Sherman Oaks-based company is one of the world’s top unscripted TV producers, and has credits including “Naked and Afraid,” “Smash Cuts,” and “Gone Country.” The company was recently acquired by eOne Entertainment.
The Uslans and Rengade 83 are both represented by William Morris Endeavor. And WME brokered the first-look agreement.
“With Renegade 83’s amazing ability to develop formats and produce successful shows, backed now by the strength of eOne, this is a win-win situation for all. We couldn’t be happier,” said David Uslan.
U2K has signed a deal with Chinese video streaming giant iQIYI for the Chinese company’s “Hot Blood Dance Crew.” The show, which is pitched as akin to “Lip Sync Battle” and “The Voice,” but based around dancing instead of singing, has a strong AI component. U2K is representing format rights to remake “Dance Crew” in English-speaking territories and India. The Chinese version was screened in international markets on streaming service Rakuten Viki.
In South Korea, which boasts a white-hot creative scene and which has shows watched all over Asia, U2K has licensed the rights to remake unscripted show “Crime Scene” in English-language territories. The show hails from JTBC, a free- and pay-TV company that has done format deals with EndemolShine and is producing “Max x Max,” one of the first Korean originals for Netflix. Now in its third season, “Crime Scene” requires contestants to solve problems in a manner somewhere between “CSI” and “Clue” (or board game “Cluedo”). Contestants in the first two seasons were members of the public. In the third season participants were local celebrities.
From Zee Studios International, part of India’s huge Zee group, U2K has picked up format rights to three popular unscripted shows, and format rights to one of the country’s biggest sitcoms, “Bhabiji Ghar Par Hain!.” In each case, the company has the right to set up shows in English-language territories, and China, where streaming services have by many measures overtaken traditional broadcast groups, and are competing vigorously with each other for new concepts.
The unscripted Zee shows are: “Saanp Seedi,” based on a children’s game; “Antakshari,” a musical game show with three two-person teams that ran for 15 years on Zee; “India’s Best Dramebaaz,” a reality show that aimed to find acting talent among kids under 15. “Bhabiji” which has been on air since 2015, has a title which translates approximately as “Is the woman of the house at Home?”. It features two neighboring couples where the husbands are each attracted to the other man’s wife.
The Uslans and Karas have spent more than four years criss-crossing the Pacific Ocean, to break in to Asian scene and get to this point. Over that period Asian streaming services have become global players and regulations in China have been changed. They have previously struck deals with Korea’s MBC and KBS, and now have offices in Los Angeles, Beijing and Hong Kong.
“As formats dry up in Europe, Latin and South America, and places like Israel, the content being generated in Asia keeps getting bigger and bigger, with more international themes and genres that can appeal to a wider, global audience,” David Uslan told Variety. “With the huge populations in Asia, particularly China and India, these are the biggest shows and formats in the world, with the biggest viewership and fanbases.”
The Uslans and Karas also have a separate company Strawberry Pictures Global Media, where they develop and produce film and TV co-productions.