“Spelling Star is a supercharged family event that combines the traditional art of spelling with the drama, jeopardy and entertainment value of The Voice, which we make here in Australia,” says Mark Fennessy, co-CEO of Endemol Shine Australia and the creator of the show. “It’s far more talent-based than gameshow. We created both group and individual challenges, which tested speed as well as written and visual spelling, but the ultimate challenge was always the oral spelling of difficult words whilst under a spotlight and in front of an audience.”
As a modern talent series, it features interviews with the contestants, allowing their personalities to come out. It also has the three familiar talent show phases: qualifying, heats and the final.
The series pitches more than 50 bright eight to 13-year olds into (age-based) competition over word-related rounds and challenges. The initial range of contestants is whittled down to 26, then six and then four, with that quartet going head-to-head in a traditional-style spelling bee to win the crown.
Fennessy says local versions are in discussion in various markets with different cultures and languages. “It would be easy to only talk about its potential in English-speaking territories, but it’s far greater than that,” he says. “We believe that the universality of spelling, when combined with the drama of a child slowly building a complex word, letter by letter, has the makings of a format that translates in multiple territories.”
What the series has delivered for free-to-air broadcaster Ten Network is the prized family audience. “That’s not so easy to achieve in today’s competitive environment and changing landscape,” says Fennessy.
Ten has ordered a second season of Great Australian Spelling Bee, as it was known locally, after a decent first-season performance. The show out-rated established formats including I’m a Celebrity… and Gogglebox and the launch episode was the most talked about show on Twitter in its time-slot.
With the built-in play-along nature of spelling games, there will be an app for the second run, allowing the audience to play certain challenges in the show in real time.
In a formats world crying out for an international hit, Fennessy says one of Spelling Star’s main attributes is its uncomplicated nature: “Sometimes the best are the simplest – and the simplest ideas are the most exciting.”
The show: Spelling Star
The producer: Endemol Shine Australia
The distributor: Endemol Shine International
The broadcaster: Network Ten (Australia)
The concept: Spelling bee competition reworked into a modern talent show format