EXCLUSIVE: Sony-backed producer Stellify Media is preparing a move into drama following the launch of its wacky gameshow Flinch on Netflix.
The company, which is known for producing left-of-center gameshows such as BBC primetime Saturday night format Can’t Touch This and classic formats such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Blind Date, is looking to diversify into scripted this year.
It is working with prolific Northern Irish comedian Ciaran Bartlett to develop a number of drama series. Bartlett has written shows including BBC Northern Ireland’s Tight Shorts and Soft Border Patrol as well as RTE sitcom Homebirds and is also working with BBC Studios on a sitcom.
Stellify Media’s Joint Managing Director Kieran Doherty (left) started his career writing for BBC series including Sesame Tree, Teethgrinder and Jim Henson’s Pajanimals before moving into the non-scripted side of the business. He told Deadline, “I started as a writer, that’s my passion. I had a few ideas previously and when Matt [Worthy] and I were starting [Stellify] we said we’d do drama but obviously drama is really difficult, so we started having chats with Ciaran and we’ll be pitching soon. Why not? We built a theme park for Can’t Touch This, so how hard could it be? We’re throwing ourselves in, no sense of going small now.”
Doherty added that it would be working closely with backer Sony Pictures Television’s international team, which includes President of International Production Wayne Garvie, on the new slate. “It’s new ground for us but obviously Sony is a real help,” he said.
Worthy and Doherty also spoke with Deadline about making Netflix gameshow Flinch and taking advantage of scoring a high-profile SVOD commission with a whole slew of new entertainment formats. Stellify was one of the first British production companies to score a non-scripted entertainment commission from the digital platform and the show launched last week.
Flinch is an all action comedy game show with one simple rule: do not flinch. The show is set on a remote farm in the hills of Ireland where brave and foolish contestants gather to test their nerve against three fiendish games. If they flinch, there are painful consequences both for them, and for our hosts, who have each chosen a player to represent them in the games.
Three celebrity hosts, Seann Walsh, Lloyd Griffith and Desiree Burch, bet on which contestant can withstand the most pain, and the losing host faces the same fate in their very own game of chicken.
Worthy came up with the original idea for a gameshow where the participants can’t move. He told Deadline that once the games were developed, the company hired comic book artist P.J. Holden to storyboard them. They described the idea as “juvenile, tortune fun” and “wanted to see if we could gamify fail videos”. They decided to film a taster tape in Worthy’s barn with the employees of Stellify. “Once you have an idea like that you have to test it. We weren’t sure if it was funny, we were laughing because we knew the people in the tape, but then we showed it to people and everybody really went for it,” said Worthy.
Shortly after this, they scored some time with Netflix. “[Sony’s] Wayne Garvie phoned us and asked us if we wanted to pitch Netflix. We knew we had about twenty minutes over Skype, it was quite risky but at the time we said we’d only pitch Flinch. Thinking back now, if they hadn’t liked it we should have pitched our entire slate but we were so enamoured with it, we did and then a few weeks later it was commissioned to series,” said Doherty.
The show is being aimed at a family friendly audience and the pair said that they have received a “great reaction”. It is now working up a raft of ideas to take advantage of this heat.
Worthy (right) said that it has a number of entertainment ideas with similar zany twists that it is pitching to British broadcasters and is also planning a trip to the States later this year to pitch to the networks and digital platforms. “We have a whole host of gameshows and quiz shows set to go now that entertainment is making a comeback. We’re pitching quite soon and they all have a similar thing to Flinch… they all have a simple premise and we have a tape for all of them. Everything we come up with, we come up with a view that it’s sellable everywhere, we look to the other markets to see what would work,” added Doherty.
This also builds on its previous big-budget format Can’t Touch This, a show that saw contestants try and touch prizes to win them after they managed an assault course that aired on BBC One and was piloted by Fox in the U.S. The pair said that they always wanted to have an international focus to their formats and that by working with Sony Pictures Television, they were able to use the Hollywood studio’s global infrastructure.
One its slightly smaller creations, Beauty Queen and Single (left), has also found success around the world. The show, which was originally commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland, is a dating show in which beauty queens undergo a makeunder before going on a date without looks getting in the way. Dutch broadcaster NPO3 commissioned a six-part remake and the format has also been optioned in Finland via Aito Media.
It also has a number of bankers on its docket; it produces a reboot of classic Cilla Black dating format Blind Date, which is now in its fourth season on Viacom’s Channel 5, and makes the Jeremy Clarkson-fronted reboot of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? for ITV. The pair said that these shows prove that they can handle a big format and allows commissioners to trust them with future, slightly more inventive projects. “We’re more well-known now than ever because of Millionaire and Flinch and the Millionaires and Blind Dates show that we can make good shows and we know how to make them,” Doherty said. “We’re all quite buzzing about what’s coming up.”
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