Scripted formats are travelling further than ever before, particularly female-led and family-focused dramas. Mark Layton finds out what’s behind this growing demand and where it’s all leading.
For those in the scripted format business, the past few years have been rather exciting.
In what is now a familiar story, the global pandemic and subsequent global streaming boom have accelerated trends that were already steadily maturing.
With homebound audiences desperate for fresh drama and escapism, and new, globally expanding platforms opening untapped avenues of distribution, scripted formats were well placed to meet the increased demand for content.
Oven-ready scripts and bibles meant that local adaptations of tried, tested and recognisable shows were ready to hit the ground running, skipping a few years of development time to quickly plug the gaps for content-hungry streamers and broadcasters alike.
But even with this pandemic-prompted proliferation, quality scripted formats were already becoming an increasingly sought-after commodity.
Rising to meet a changing market
“There was definitely more demand for it, regardless of the pandemic, so we have seen a huge spike,” reveals Ana Langenberg, SVP of format sales and production at NBCUniversal Formats, which recently announced both a MENA adaptation of US legal drama Suits and a Spanish version of NBC comedy Superstore, titled Supertitlan. The US firm has also launched a new unit dedicated to selling Wolf Entertainment formats such as Law & Order.
“We’ve produced shows in the past like House in Russia and Suits in Korea and Japan, but it was always like one or two deals a year. In the last couple of years – we haven’t announced everything yet – but there is a hell of a lot.”
Now that much of the world is opening up again, it’s not viewers stuck indoors acting as the driving factor, but the already much-discussed increasing demand for localised content – as well as brand recognition, of course.
“The streamers have been changing the marketplace and that means demand for locally produced content, as we all know,” says Langenberg. “I think that has made streamers think about local scripted, as well as the FTA channels, which need to compete with streamers and who have thought they also need to do more in that space.”
“We haven’t seen a decline since things have opened up, if anything we’ve seen an increase,” agrees Andre Renaud, SVP of global format sales at the UK-based BBC Studios. “A really good example of that is in Turkey, where we have just had the first international version of Happy Valley. Doctor Foster is also in Turkey, as is The Split – we’ve seen a huge growth of storytelling coming from format adaptations.”
Renaud adds that the Doctor Foster format has also seen massive success in South Korea, with a domino effect leading to further adaptations in Asia, such as in the Philippines, and yesterday’s deal with Thailand’s Channel 3.
Local shows for local people
Israel is something of a powerhouse when it comes to producing scripted dramas that either travel widely or are remade for international audiences, with hit shows such as Euphoria, Homeland and Your Honor all based on domestic formats.
Karni Ziv, head of drama for Keshet Broadcasting, has personally commissioned a slew of series that have been remade internationally, including Yellow Peppers (which went global as The A Word), The Baker And The Beauty and False Flag, which will soon launch its third season, while its first international remake recently debuted on Apple TV+ as Suspicion.
Ziv highlights the clear interest in both remakes and original versions of a series travelling, as they each offer something different to the viewer. “When you show an Israeli show, like ours or Fauda or Shtisel, the audience has the opportunity to peek into Israeli life and culture.
“The other effect is to take a very good story, that was very Israeli, embedded in our culture and personalities, and you find the universal heartbeat. Then you embed them in something that is very close to the audience that will see it overseas – and then it becomes their story.”
Langenberg agrees that while original versions will always remain popular, demand for localisation is booming: “To see those stories adapted to those cultures, those cultural values – I think that’s what audiences want. There’s always going to be a place for originals from the US or the UK or wherever they may be from, but what audiences really want to see is localised stories.”
One only has to look at the upcoming South Korean remake of the international mega-hit Money Heist (aka La Casa De Papel) to see how appealing local adaptations can be, even when the original series is already incredibly popular.
A second chance to shine
International remakes also give new producers the chance not just to localise, but also improve upon the originating show. “As the head of drama, I will always see where we could have done better – they can watch the full series, they can look at things to do better. They have the opportunity to make an even better story than we did,” says Ziv.
But does that create the risk that a popular remake of a scripted format could go on to sell more successfully than the original, and impact upon those sales?
“A good example of that would be the title Woman –My Life for My Children–,” says Sayako Aoki, sales & licensing manager, international business development at Nippon TV in Japan. “The Turkish version has been sold to almost 50 countries as a finished tape,” she explains, but there is little concern that those sales might have affected the Japanese show’s sales because “the peak” of the original programme’s distribution had been “more than five years prior to the format deal with Turkey.”
However, Aoki adds that this is something that Nippon is bearing in mind. “In future deals, there would be more cases where we would have to find a balance or priority in our sales strategy, especially in those involving global platforms.”
This goes the same for a company selling a format into a territory where finished tape of its own original series might show. Langenberg comments: “We work very closely with both our global distribution teams and our local distribution teams to make sure that we’re not getting in the way of sales of the original.
“Whenever there is interest in a format in a territory, the first thing that we do is contact the finished programme distribution teams and say, ‘how is it going with that title, have you sold it, who did you sell it to?’ You want to give the broadcaster that bought the original the chance to be the first one to commission a local version, because it makes sense to keep it in the same platform, so they can window it themselves.”
Focus on female-led drama
Ask a hundred execs what makes a great scripted format with the legs to travel internationally and the odds are a hundred of them would suggest some variation on strong writing, a relatable plot and globally relevant themes. However, Renaud suggests that there are some shows in greater demand than others – particularly those with strong female leads.
“The trends and themes we’ve seen that resonate with people when they look at a scripted format boil down to strong, bold characters, particularly strong women. You can see that in Doctor Foster, you can see that in Happy Valley, you can see that in The Split.”
Sarah Wills, senior content development manager at Banijay, meanwhile, highlights Penoza, another series that happens to have a strong female lead at its heart, as a format that has travelled well for the company.
“Penoza is very much a live, active format from Endemol Shine Nederlands’ NL Film, that’s been on in Sweden and it’s just been on air for a second season in India,” Wills says. The Indian adaptation, Aarya, was nominated for an International Emmy last year and has previously been remade in the US as Red Widow.
Banijay’s global network of producers reflects how the group model works well with scripted formats. “Another example is our Mexican production company, Endemol Shine Boomdog, redeveloping an Australian format, A Beautiful Lie (originally produced by Endemol Shine Australia), and that’s based on the book, Anna Karenina,” adds Wills.
One of Banijay’s most widely travelled scripted formats is Scandi-noir crime series The Bridge, which has been remade in five countries and, once again, has a strong female character at the heart of the show.
Lars Blomgren, the company’s head of scripted, comments: “It’s interesting with The Bridge, because that’s between two territories, that kind of came out of necessity back in the day. If you had two broadcasters attached then at least you’d get funding,” he says of the show’s co-production model. “But nowadays that’s kind of out of fashion, it’s more the really local, superlocal stories,” he points out, echoing Ziv and Langenberg’s points.
“Lots of older formats are being remade in India now and that’s a big opportunity to tell stories in a completely different way,” adds Blomgren, pointing to Call My Agent: Bollywood, Banijay Asia’s remake of the French series, which debuted on Netflix last year.
Aoki, meanwhile, says that Mother is Nippon’s most exported scripted format out of Asia.“It has been licensed to eight countries so far with the expectation of a few more versions to follow in 2022.
“Mother is an emotional story featuring universal themes of family and motherhood, but the story evolves with other intriguing elements such as mystery and crime. This powerful combination helps increase viewer engagement and makes it travel across regions.”
Getting a head start
Fox in Turkey has also expanded its scripted format commissions. Yadigar Belbuken, VP & head of channels, says that local adaptations have been among top performers for the broadcaster in recent years.
She sees the “key advantage” of a remake is as being “the ability to plan the show, knowing where the story will take you in season two and beyond. This gives you a head start on creative planning and a chance to avoid overage costs.”
Belbuken reveals that Fox has been experimenting with remakes from the US, the UK and Asia in an effort to broaden its content offering, with its latest adaptation, Hidden Truth, which is based on the South Korean show The Innocent Defender, “quickly becoming” one of its highest rated scripted shows.
Fox was also behind the aforementioned remake of Nippon TV’s Woman –My Life For My Children– and struck a deal with BBC Studios for Happy Valley, with the local version to be known as Son Nefesime Kadar.
“We tend to look for multi-faceted shows which appeal to wide-ranging audiences,” says Belbuken of their remake strategy. “The one main theme our audiences always respond to is family. A nuanced, emotional family drama will draw in loyal audiences. This is why we recently partnered on Happy Valley.”
Of Fox’s 2017 version of Woman –My Life for My Children–, Belbuken adds: “We were struck by the show’s authentic portrayal of a young widow and her determination to provide for her children. This is a heart gripping story about a mother’s unconditional love for her children and it was bound to resonate.”
This season, Fox is airing a remake of another BBC Studios format, The Split, titled locally as All About Marriage. The show has got off to “a great start” and is already “generating interest in other markets,” says Belbuken, explaining that the remake “dives deeper into the family drama element,” than the original, a strategy that seems to be paying off in ratings for the broadcaster.
Comedy & consensus
While the shows highlighted here point to scripted formats with strong female characters and relatable family drama as leading the charge, there are signs of new genres gaining attention.
Renaud suggests that scripted comedy is about to come to the fore, noting the accepted position that “comedy doesn’t translate” is no longer holding, while citing a noticeable rising demand and recent deals such as for The Office in Poland and Uncle in South Korea.
As for the wider future, the consensus here is that scripted format demand will only grow as platforms and audiences become more comfortable with them, and the ongoing hunger for content ensures that this trend will have negligible impact upon the number of truly new productions making their way to screens.
As Langenberg puts it: “There is so much demand for content right now, I doubt very much that it is one or the other that can thrive. There is always going to be demand for new original ideas and there is a place for formats as well.”
If the past few years have been exciting for those in scripted formats, it seems as though the next few are poised to be just as exhilarating.