Judging by a recent interview with American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe in the Guardian newspaper, there’s never been a better time to be British in Hollywood.
Not only is the former BBC and LWT light entertainment guru running the top-rated TV show in the US, but he’s also been linked with Priscilla Presley and even gets to star in his own reality show, Corkscrewed, which follows his attempts to run a vineyard in California.
Not bad for someone one critic once described as looking "like Eric Idle watching a dog drown".
Of course Lythgoe is by no means the only ex-pat riding the wave of the US reality boom. From Michael Davies, who kicked off the whole trend when he commissioned a US version of Whose Line Is It Anyway for ABC some nine years ago, to former Big Brother exec producer Conrad Green, now running ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, the US unscripted business is crawling with British production talent these days – not to mention a growing number of on-screen names (though quite what American audiences will make of Ant ‘n’ Dec’s Geordie accents remains to be seen).
At the same time, UK distributors are also enjoying unprecedented success in the States, both when it comes to selling finished shows and formats, as well as picking up American programming for the international market.
And with the current development season in full swing season, the Brits are even looking to conquer the scripted market. BBC Worldwide, for example, has three scripted pilots in development with the US networks this season, while Shed’s Footballers’ Wives and Kudos’ Life On Mars are both being developed for ABC, and Fox is working on a remake of Tiger Aspect sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, with Kirstie Alley lined up to play the lead.
Admittedly the US scripted market is a very different beast to the world of alternative programming, and it remains to be seen whether any of the pilots will actually make it to air. But thanks to the UK’s recent track record in the unscripted market, coupled with the success of NBC’s remake of The Office, hopes are high that the latest crop of offerings will fare better than the US versions of Cracker and Men Behaving Badly.
For US producers, meanwhile, all of this must seem rather perplexing – not to mention frustrating. So it’s perhaps not surprising that a growing number of them are starting to wonder if they might be better off pitching their ideas in the UK market first, then bringing them back to the increasingly risk averse US networks as formats with a proven track record.
The challenge for most American indies, of course, is the fact that they haven’t traditionally ventured far beyond LA when it comes to pitching shows. But recent years have seen a growing number of them attending the international markets, and many are now talking to UK distributors about forging possible alliances to get their shows away across the pond.
The UK’s Target Entertainment, for example, already works closely with US producers like 51 Minds, the company behind VH1’s reality hit Flavour of Love, and is now looking at pitching US formats into the UK via its production arm, while LA and London-based distribution outfit Alchemy Reality, which launched last month, has been set up with exactly that purpose in mind.
Quite how the UK’s broadcasters will feel about being used to pilot new shows for the US market is another matter – although it could be argued that UK indies already see the BBC and ITV as a springboard to getting a US commission.
But for UK distributors, the existence of a new pool of talented producers to work with has to be a good thing, especially when the domestic market is undergoing such rapid consolidation. And seeing as how warmly the US has embraced our own ‘nasty’ Nigel, it only seems fair of us to return the favour – though I think I’d draw the line at David Guest.