Most people don’t realize how international TV truly is. Until the last week, I didn’t realize the overlaps that exist between the programming in different countries. I knew that there were a few shows with multiple national versions, like X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance. But I had always thought those were exceptions, not norms. In fact, it is very common for shows to be sold either as the original production, with or without dubbing, or as a format. A format is the premise of a show that can then be remade to adapt to another culture or country.
The other surprising thing to me is that the
doesn’t really dominate this business. Although the ownership of the global media system is increasingly based in the US US, it seems the is not the biggest player in the TV format game. The US easily wins that title, according to the Format Recognition and Protection Association, FRAPA. They released a report in 2009 that showed that the UK UK led in the number of formats exported, followed by the US and then the . I was also surprised by how many show formats the Netherlands imports, which was 67 between 2006 and 2008. US
Reality TV, competition shows and game shows are the easiest and cheapest to adapt, and so are the most common types of shows to be sold as formats. But according to FRAPA, the sale of telenovelas and dramas are increasing. Some popular shows the US has gotten from the UK include Hell’s Kitchen, the Office, Dancing with the Stars, Trading Spaces, American Idol, Prime Suspect, All in the Family, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, What Not to Wear, Whose Line Is it Anyway and Wife Swap.
There’s even a conference where programs and formats are bought and sold, called MIPTV. According to a Guardian article, they literally trade in television shows to market them in new countries. A director of global TV distribution for one of the companies, ITV Studios, Tobi de Graaff is quoted in the Guardian as saying, "Take what's successful about the show but don't ignore that you are dealing with different cultures and make the right twists to make it feel extremely home-grown and natural."
And sometimes a show does that very well and succeeds and other times it doesn’t. For instance, Skins is a very popular British show about a group of teens and deals with controversial and racy topics. MTV used the format and remade it as a
show and it completely flopped. For me watching it, it just didn’t make sense and was too outrageous and obviously most Americans would agree, since it was quickly canceled. US
A British show I loved is My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. It features members of the Irish Traveller community during big events such as weddings and First Communions. It’s fascinating because everything is so over the top and it also portrays some of the most interesting aspects of their culture like the young age of brides at the weddings and the relationship between men and women. It was a huge success in the
UK and it was also broadcast in the and did extremely well here. When it was rebroadcast in the US US in its original format, it was on TLC and TLC was advertising to find US gypsy families for a version of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I personally hope it happens because I loved watching the first series of this guilty pleasure, but it would also be really interesting to see if that kind of show can make the transition and appeal to a mass audience like the original. US