Fox offers `Temptation’ isle to global customers

Jul 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Fox has leased a Caribbean island and is offering international broadcasters an opportunity to use it to film localized versions of “Temptation Island” for their own countries.
The studio is offering a turnkey production facility and fully dressed sets as part of the package.
The island is off the eastern coast of Honduras. Fox officials decline to be more specific, citing fears of airborne paparazzi buzzing the location during production. The revolving production format being conceptualized calls for an international broadcast licensee to co-produce the localized format-with contestants chosen from the home country-in two-week taping intervals. Furthermore, Fox Television Studios President David Grant has set his sights on launching a rotating international production format for “Murder in Small Town X.” The faux murder mystery show, in which contestants have to find the killer, premieres July 24 on Fox.
Produced by Fox Television Studios and Final Stretch Productions, the show is being shot in a small, unspecified community (believed to be in Southern California) where elaborate set construction and other local housing could serve as the basis for other potential international co-productions-similar to the “Temptation Island” scenario.
The discussions surrounding “Murder in Small Town X” are “still very much in formative stages,” Mr. Grant said, “but we think it would be another great translatable format for the overseas markets. Everyone loves a good murder mystery.”
The marketing of an American-originated series concept such as “Temptation Island” to overseas broadcasters is a near complete reversal of how most reality-based series concepts have been sold previously. Until now, many of the alternative- and reality-based concepts have come from overseas, including “Survivor,” “Weakest Link,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Big Brother” and “Chains of Love.”
The plan to lease an island and tape a show there is the combined brainchild of Mr. Grant, Lisa Berger, executive vice president of creative affairs for Fox Television Studios, and Daniela Welteke, the recently named senior vice president of Fox World Productions.
“It really just seemed like a natural extension of what we’re already doing domestically,” said Mr. Grant, who is also responsible for overseeing the Fox independent “pod” production units of Fox Television Studios, Regency Television and Greenblatt Janollari Productions in the United States. “The idea here was to totally rethink the role we play as American format owners and production partners, where we can offer our production expertise and show bible-but also let our international partners customize the show to fit the cultural tastes and customs of their audience,” Mr. Grant said. “In retrospect, I think CBS realized it made a mistake when it let a Dutch company [Endemol Entertainment] produce the American version of `Big Brother’ [last summer] and is now turning over the keys to [veteran reality producer] Arnold Shapiro to better domesticate the production of `Big Brother 2,”’ which debuted on the Eye Network last Thursday.
Having secured the island location through Dec. 16, Fox has already constructed a state-of-the-art production facility. It comes equipped with remote TV production cameras, switchers and editing bays compatible with the PAL broadcast format, which is the transmission standard common throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Mr. Grant, who said he has “options” on the island for other future production dates, declined to talk about startup costs but stressed they will be “easily amortized” with the 10 to 15 international broadcasters he expects to initially license the format for co-production.
In a bit of News Corp. synergy, one of the first on the production merry-go-round is U.K.-based satellite giant Sky TV, which is bringing along London Weekend Television as a co-production partner with Fox World for the British version of “Temptation Island.” Two weeks later, Mr. Grant said, Germany’s RTL broadcast group will shoot its version on the leased island.
Sales negotiations are ongoing with terrestrial broadcasters in Japan, Latin America and Canada, Mr. Grant said, and are being handled by 20th Century International Television President Mark Kaner.
Though Fox World sealed a long-term co-production deal last March with European channel group SBS Broadcasting, it is considered likely that Fox will license and co-produce localized versions of “Temptation Island” for Scandinavia, Belgium, Switzerland, Central Europe and the Netherlands. However, Mr. Grant declined to confirm whether all of those territories are involved in the first round of production.“When we shot the original version of `Temptation Island,’ we had over 1,000 hours of footage, but it was all condensed to eight one-hour-long episodes [for broadcast on Fox],” Mr. Grant said. “Now, just imagine an international satellite broadcaster taking all of that footage and running it on several branded `Temptation Island’ channels. With all of this available digital capacity, it would not be unlike the Internet video streaming of `Big Brother’ on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis last summer. For a company like Sky TV, which has one of the largest digital platforms in the world, it makes perfect sense to offer viewers another unique, highly recognized brand for promotion of their overall services.”
In Europe, at least, the much more liberal cultural stance on sex could indeed make for an easier sale of uncensored, extended footage of “Temptation Island.” For example, Mr. Grant noted that when an overseas format of “Big Brother” aired in Italy, it was “seen in explicit content, way beyond what the [U.S.] networks here would list as an advisory TV-MA [mature audiences only].”
How much potential licensing revenue from primary or multiplexed channel sales of “Temptation Island” would bring to Fox Television Studios’ coffers is something Mr. Grant said is “way too early to estimate.” Fox is said by sources to hold a majority equity position on the series; the company previously acquired the international sales rights from “Temptation Island” creator Rocket Science Laboratories.
Mr. Grant’s unit may also produce “clip show specials”-compilation versions of other countries’ “Temptation Island” broadcasts that would be seen in the United States on Fox. “There could be some really great humor out of seeing how all of these different cultures handle the temptations of testing the waters with other singles,” he said.
Not exactly the TV critics’ darling in EM’s spring 2001 critics poll (see story, Page 16), “Temptation Island” was widely panned for trying to entice four couples to break up as they were separated and made to commingle with two-dozen other singles brought to Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Nevertheless, “Temptation Island” produced Fox’s strongest adults 18 to 34 demographic ratings in more than six years on Wednesday nights (9 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET) as it helped carry Fox to an overall prime-time win in the demo during the February 2001 sweeps.
Those stats have been used as a powerful selling tool to get international markets to pick up the show.