Why the scripted format boom is fuelled by relatable storytelling (Column)

Richard O’Meara

K7 Media insight manager Richard O’Meara breaks down the findings of the consultancy’s latest Tracking The Scripted Giants report, which reveal that the scripted ideas being remade around the world are largely humble, human stories rather than big-budget brainteasers. 

The value of a good story has never been greater. With unprecedented competition between broadcasters and streamers, there’s an arms race to snap up proven narratives, adapt for the local market, and capture those oh-so-valuable eyeballs – all without having to come up with an original idea.

This has resulted in an increase in literary adaptations, as well as podcast-to-TV remakes, but also in the growth of the scripted format market. The latter has been tracked in K7 Media’s new report Tracking the Scripted Giants – our look at exactly what stories are being remade and adapted, including details of the top 100 travelling scripted TV formats.

As revealed in the report, there are now just fewer than 90 scripted formats that have sold to three or more markets, compared to just 20 in the 1990s and 52 by the end of 2010. When looking at exactly which stories have been successfully retold in multiple territories, it’s not dazzling high-concept tales or twist-ridden cerebral thrillers that jump out, but, rather, humbler and more human stories.

Take for example the bestselling format of the past decade, Dori Media’s In Treatment. With an impressive 17 format sales, who’d have thought audiences from Japan to Serbia would find a psychologist and their patients picking through the neuroses of everyday life so compelling? This is all the more notable when you remember many of the international versions are based closely on the original Hebrew script. Many of our worries, anxieties and self doubts, it appears, really are universal.

Looking at other formats getting plenty of passport stamps, we inevitably come to youth phenomenon Skam, which currently sits at six global adaptations.

From recognising the belligerent boss in The Office (10 format sales) to the suffering at the hands of illness in The Red Band Society (nine format sales) or the perpetual self-doubter in Ugly Betty (19 format sales), many of the best scripted series hold up mirrors to our own lives.

With different localised dressings – for example, a cheerleading team in the US version and more espressos in Skam Italia – the challenges faced by the international squads of teens are much the same, and resemble the problems wrangled by adolescents worldwide.

Last year, president of NBCUniversal International Studios Jeff Wachtel opined that shows such as Game Of Thrones and Fleabag were equally as ‘global’ in nature. Despite the latter’s lack of dragons, ginormous budget or genre flash, Wachtel said Fleabag’s emotional relatability was something a “young woman in Peru or old man in Cambodia could find value in”.

Indeed, Canal+’s Mouche is the first of a number of Fleabag remakes in the works to reach air, bringing the outrageous exploration of being a modern city-dwelling woman to Paris – all without a dragon in sight. It doesn’t hurt of course that by leaning on character, rather than costumes and CGI, shows such as Fleabag or Skam and their remakes can be ratings winners on relatively meagre budgets.

What is it that really sticks with us from other cross-border hits of recent years such as Luther (remade four times) or Doctor Foster (three times)? Is it the plot, or the complex, nuanced and relatable characters? We’d say the latter for sure: while most of us aren’t quite as bad-ass as the hardboiled detective or scorned GP, we can see ourselves in their more vulnerable moments, of which there are plenty in both shows.

From recognising the belligerent boss in The Office (10 format sales) to the suffering at the hands of illness in The Red Band Society (nine format sales) or the perpetual self-doubter in Ugly Betty (19 format sales), many of the best scripted series hold up mirrors to our own lives.

Indeed, intricate plotting is all well and good, but as Tracking The Scripted Giants shows, character and relatability is key if we want to tell stories the world wants to hear. For writers and producers looking to make drama that travels – via format sale or otherwise – take advantage of the fact that even in divided times, we still have a lot more in common than what separates us.

K7 Media’s ‘Tracking the Scripted Giants’ features 25 pages of expert insights surrounding the scripted format market. To learn more about the report please contact keri.lewisbrown@k7.media.

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