TBI In Conversation: World of Wonder founders on prioritising ‘Drag Race’ passion & scripted plans

As Drag Race prepares to sashay on to Spanish screens, World of Wonder founders Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato tell TBI deputy editor Mark Layton what makes the format strike such a global chord and why they’re exploring expanding into scripted.

Drag Race España lands on Spanish SVOD Atresplayer Premium and global DTC platform WOWPresent Plus tomorrow, with this latest edition of the drag queen competition format marking its eighth local adaptation.

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, co-founders of LA-based franchise creator and WOW Presents Plus owner World of Wonder, promise “mucho, mucho drama” for this latest “Almodóvar-esque” iteration, which will pit Spain’s fiercest drag queens against one another.

As always, the aim is to find the next drag superstar in a pool of contestants whittled down through a series of design and performance-based challenges, with this version of the show hosted by Supremme de Luxe, rather than franchise creator and mainstay RuPaul.

The series is being produced by Atresmedia TV in collaboration with Buendía Estudios and executive produced by World of Wonder, with Bailey, Barbato and Tom Campbell attached as executive producers, while Passion Distribution will distribute the series globally.

While the execs tell TBI that drag is “all over the world and in every culture,” they add that their plans for global franchise expansion are about more than just racing to take the show to every territory.

“There’s exciting local drag scenes everywhere, it’s just that they’re not necessarily on platforms or television,” says Bailey. “Drag has been traditionally ignored, but the irony is that it is big impact for the small screen, perfect for TV, and we love working with countries that get that and want to have their own version of Drag Race.”

Bailey elaborates: “It’s really about those countries who come to the table who understand what drag is; I think that’s really what we look for. Because drag has always existed and has always been an incredibly vital, artistic force; it’s singing, it’s dancing, it’s hair, it’s make-up, it’s looks, it’s many different arts all in one super package.”

Fenton Bailey

Adding a local flavour

Barbato adds that while there are obviously familiar elements across all of the various versions of the show, World of Wonder has found success by giving something of a free hand to their production partners.

“The reason that all of these iterations have been so successful is because they make their region’s Drag Race their own version. Each one is a different flavour and that’s really why the brand has been so successful as it’s been expanding,” suggests Barbato. “We’re not racing to take drag global as quickly as possible. It’s more important to us to find the right partners, the right outlets and right production companies who have the same passion we have for drag and for this show and then we let them make it their own.”

Barbato further highlights how the various versions of the show have resonated with viewers in a wide range of territories, suggesting that the show is somewhat different from other formats in that audiences want to know more about drag in other countries and cultures. “It’s unusual for people around the world to want to see the different versions of a particular show, I that I think is pretty unprecedented and that has to do with how each show in each country is made – each queen is so unique and surprising.”

Randy Barbato

Scripted push

While Drag Race España is just about to launch its first run, the original US version of the show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, recently concluded its 13th season on VH1 and is currently casting for its 14th. Over the years, it has also spun off several other shows, most notably RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, which will debut its sixth season on Paramount+ and WOW Presents Plus next month.

Barbato credits the franchise’s continued popularity on its creator RuPaul’s drive to keep evolving the format, while Bailey points out: “The show is a drag queen, the format itself is a drag queen, so it’s not like it wears the same thing twice. There are some staples like hair and heels, but every season there are twists and turns.”

All of these local versions and spin-offs are carried by World of Wonder’s own streaming service, WOW Presents Plus, which also offers a wide range of content beyond Drag Race.

Upcoming highlights include makeup competition show Painted With Raven, hosted by Drag Race favourite and make-up artist Raven, while the service also carries shows from further back in the World of Wonder catalogue such as UK comedy series The Adam And Joe Show.

“We will continue to develop and produce shows, many of which are based on different talents that come out of Drag Race. Those shows will become increasingly a bit more ambitious in nature,” reveals Barbato.

The company is also looking to push further into scripted content, with a number of projects in development, including a series and two movies, with details yet to be announced. A scripted movie adaptation of Bailey’s 2000 documentary The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, with Searchlight Pictures, is also debuting in September, directed by Michael Showalter and starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield.

WOW Presents Plus was further bolstered by the launch of documentary division WOW Docs under unscripted exec Jim Fraenkel last year, which Barbato describes as “an extension of everything we do,” adding: “It is fiercely independent and it allows us to pursue our passion projects.”

One such project is Explant, a documentary following RuPaul’s Drag Race judge Michelle Visage as she investigates a mysterious breast implant-related autoimmune illness, while having her own breast implants removed.

“It is an example of the sort of projects we will pursue with WOW Docs, projects that we’re curious about,” says Barbato. “Most of these films we will independently finance rather than take them out and pitch them. Eventually we’ll pursue partners, but also eventually they’ll all end up on WOW Presents Plus, it’s part of expanding content on that platform.”

RuPaul’s Drag Race

Unfettered spirit of creativity

World of Wonder was also somewhat ahead of the curve when launching its direct-to-consumer streamer in 2017, way before the current streaming pivot we are witnessing, and for Bailey and Barbato, the advantages of such a model are clear.

“It’s less concerned with advertisers, it’s less concerned with brands and I think some of the rules and regulations that would make an executive think twice about doing a show like Drag Race. As a creator that is one of the most exciting things, to be able to just go do it,” says Bailey, who shares his thoughts on the current streaming boom. “What we’re witnessing is this great rush of these massively funded organisations; Netflix, Apple, Disney, Peacock, Discovery… are all racing to be the biggest. That’s great, go do that, go be the biggest, because what I think World of Wonder is about, to borrow someone else’s saying, is overserving the underserved.”

“This is the golden age of speciality. I don’t like to say niche, because I think niche is a word used by big mainstream people to describe things that they consider too small to really bother with,” he adds.

“So often the success of any show on TV ends up being the surprises that sneak through the process,” says Barbato. “There are so many great networks and great execs out there, but also there is something to be said about that spirit of creativity that is unleashed and unfettered. Having our own network gives us the opportunity to do that in spades.”

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