Has the Australian broadcasting corporation, ( ABC ) unlocked the elusive recipe for what makes a hit TV show? Some of the world's most successful commercial networks are copying its key programs.
In the past month, deals have been signed with US broadcasters that will put versions of The Slap, Rake and a new comedy, Strange Calls, on American TV. The last of those deals was signed before Strange Calls had even aired here.
The ABC has also signed deals with foreign broadcasters to copy The New Inventors, Agony Uncles and Agony Aunts, and the comedy classic Mother and Son.
''No one knows the recipe, no one knows what's going to be successful here or there, but there is an appetite for fresh, original ideas and they don't care where the ideas come from,'' says Debbie Lee, the ABC's head of comedy.
Aunty's comedy department has a robust history selling its concepts around the world. The critically acclaimed ABC2 series Review with Myles Barlow is being remade by the US cable channel Comedy Central and the US network NBC last year bought the rights to the comedy series Laid with a view to remaking it.
Mother and Son, which has just been remade by Lithuania, has clocked up eight international remakes. And even The Chaser format has been sold to international broadcasters.
Taking on the tough-to-crack US market ... Rake.
''Especially with comedy, everybody wants the next big comedy hit and everyone acknowledges it's difficult to get, it's risky to back but when you get it, it's the jewel in the crown,'' Lee says.
''The American networks, everyone, is looking for those things that have been trialled elsewhere, that have achieved some success or have the spark of originality.''
The American market, in particular, has always been a historically difficult one to crack. But a combination of factors - including the success of comedians such as Chris Lilley and a new wave of popular foreign content - has helped to unlock it.
''The American market is looking much more broadly, for those things particular to a culture, that they can adapt into a US context,'' Lee says, pointing to the success of The Killing and Homeland, which has generated interest in other programs coming out of Denmark and Israel, respectively.
The two biggest deals in recent times are with the US network NBC to remake The Slap and with Sony Pictures Television to develop a US version of Rake.
What makes those two deals unusual is the degree to which the Australian writers and producers are involved. That has not been the case historically, and has led to some spectacular stumbles, notably US versions of the British comedy Coupling and our own Kath & Kim & Wilfred.
The big winner, says Lee, are Australia's independent producers who are being given a rare opportunity to collaborate with some of the best and most successful writers, producers, production companies and the networks in the world.
''Historically, formats were purchased and copied, with mixed success,'' says Lee. ''There is a greater emphasis now on co-producing material with the original authors.''
From a global perspective, format sales - that is, buying concepts of shows - have become a major source of revenue. Buying and selling formats accounts for an increasing slice of the deal-making and is worth almost $12 billion globally.
Katherine McMillan, the sales manager for ABC Commercial, says in that arena, Australia is unusually competitive for its size.
''The format industry is opening up wider and wider to new countries and I think Australia is definitely batting above our weight,'' she says.
July 26, 2014
I'm actually a bit annoyed about this. Rake and The Strange Calls have had no announcements for a new season and are possibly cancelled but if they're popular enough to be recreated in another country, why can't they get another season of the original version? I love Rake. The humour is just fantastic and The Strange Calls is just the right kind of quirky. Why can't they give the originals a chance before they ship the concept off to another country?
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