NBC Universal’s non-scripted studio, run by Paul Telegdy and Meredith Ahr, is looking to ramp up the number of shows it produces for third party broadcasters and digital services as it starts to move a number of its talent-led formats around the world.
Telegdy and Ahr tell Deadline that they have moved into the next phase of growth at the Universal Television Alternative Studio, which was set up in June 2016. The pair lifted the lid on their latest batch of projects, reaffirmed plans to move into the music space and reveal how they are getting stars such as Jennifer Lopez and Dwayne Johnson to help close high-profile international format deals.
The studio is coming off the back of Lopez’s World of Dance competition, a ratings winner for NBC that is heading into its second season on May 29. Telegdy admitted that the broadcaster initially “hid its light under a bushel a bit too much” but that the show was one of its genuinely most successful new shows.
It is now on the verge of closing a raft of international format deals for the show, which also features Ne-Yo and Derek Hough, having sold it into markets such as Poland, Thailand and the Philippines. Telegdy admits that it’s a slow roll out, stressing that they are big commitments to broadcasters. It’s becoming tougher to launch international formats as well, with many networks preferring to commission their own originals. The BBC, for instance, has just ordered The Greatest Dancer from Simon Cowell’s Syco. “The success of World of Dance has stimulated a number of [international broadcasters] that have got [their own] pilot going. I’m confident they’ll thrash around a bit [and then sign World of Dance],” adds Telegdy.
To combat this, the pair have managed to get Lopez, and Johnson, whose physical competition format The Titan Games launches later this year, to help persuade global networks to sign up by being available for promotion and acting as cheerleaders for the brands. Ahr says, “They have both said, ‘tell me what you need’. They are not attaching their name to something and walking away, they fully believe in the mission and message of what these shows represent. They really care. Jennifer has already shot World of Dance promos in multiple languages. For all our formats, we try and make the format the star no matter who is on them; it’s about credibility.”
The Titan Games, which received a ten-episode order, is the next big bet for the studio. The show sees competitors from across America step inside an arena and put themselves to the ultimate test by facing one of six reigning Titans in a series of epic head-to-head challenges designed to test mind, body and heart.
Johnson tells Deadline, “The Titan Games will take the spotlight and shine it on everyday people who have what it takes to rise up to one of the most physically challenging experiences they’ve ever tackled. We want to deliver a competition that is different from anything else out there and we know our global audience will love watching our fierce competitors step into the arena for the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The show is produced in association with American Ninja Warrior producer A. Smith & Co. and Seven Bucks Productions co-founders Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia.
Garcia says, “With The Titan Games, we are giving anyone with the will-power and perseverance an opportunity to face and overcome some of the most intense physical competitions to earn the title of Titan. We look forward to taking the audience along for this wild ride.”
NBC Universal’s international format sales team will be launching The Titan Games at Mip TV in Cannes, which kicks off this weekend. It is one of a number of formats that the Hollywood studio will be hoping that can travel. Other priorities including Knife Fight, the late-night culinary competition that sees talented chefs go head-to-head to create incredible dishes under rowdy circumstances, Chris Hardwick-fronted science format The Awesome Show, Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman’s Making It, art format Everyone’s A Critic and mystery gameshow The Game With No Name, which was created in association with Korean broadcaster MBC.
Ahr and Telegy say that they welcome ideas from all over the world and are keen to work with more international producers. Hollywood and the studios may seem like a really mysterious place, like the Wizard of Oz, but there are lots of access points for international people, we throw our doors open, we’re not mysterious. I don’t want people to think it’s a parochial place, it’s very global, NBCU is a company that really takes international business seriously because we have to think about the history of where hits come from,” says Telegdy, who is one of the longest serving network execs in the business, having joined ten years ago. Ahr joined NBC as a page in 2001, working on Saturday Night Live.
Last year, the studio picked up the U.S. format rights to Norwegian music format The Stream as it looked to find its own musical competition series. Telegdy says that it bought The Stream as a building block for this move. Last year, Telegdy told Deadline that it was expecting to launch a new music series in 2018, but he now says that they made a conscious decision to “stay out of the way” this year. He pointed to the continued ratings success of The Voice, while ABC made a big noise with the return of American Idol. “Everyone knows we’re working on a music show, I can’t keep that a secret [but] it wasn’t the year for us to launch a new music competition show. Meredith and I will crack a new music show and we have the bones of a fantastic show… we’re very confident that we’re going to pop something out of the box that is radically different, that’s not like all of the old ones.”
“We believe slow and steady wins the race. We’re thinking about giving people something they didn’t know they needed. We see people rushing out with something that feels like been there done that. We want to do something different,” adds Ahr.
Some 50% of reality hours on NBC in 2018 are produced by Universal Television Alternative Studio. However, the next big step will be securing shows on other networks as well as the digital services.
It is already producing a ten-episode reboot of classic 1970s series In Search Of for History. The show, which explores lost civilizations, extraterrestrials, myths and monsters, missing persons, magic and witchcraft, unexplained phenomena, was originally hosted by Star Trek’s Leonard Nimroy and is now being fronted by Zachary Quinto, who replaced Nimroy as Spock in the rebooted sci-fi franchise.
Ahr says now is the time to ramp this strategy up further. “The first phase was really about creating a brand and a process. It was about proving that we could be a global production company at the highest level. It’s not an accident that we have a huge game show, huge shiny floor show, a travel docu-comedy, we wanted to have a diversified portfolio so we weren’t pigeonholed. I was scared that if we sold something we wouldn’t be ready. Phase two, which started this year, is really honing our development for outside, it’s not for NBC, we’ve already got things that haven’t been announced yet and we’re in negotiations with a number of other outlets, broadcast and cable and digital, really great shows that I hope we can announce soon,” she says.
Telegdy admits “there will be a day when I look at the ratings at 4:30am and we have a show on another network and we’ll be celebrating the success and feeling another way”. It’s not a bad problem to have.