It’s certainly a bit louder than live marble racing.
The show, which is based on the playground game of chase or tag, essentially sees regular folk competing against a group of professional taggers, some are parkour experts, to vault, dodge, tumble and dive across a massive course to avoid getting caught. The show launches tonight, Wednesday May 20.
Natalka Znak, who runs the U.S./UK based production company Znak & Co and exec produces the show, alongside JJ Watt and Conrad Green, tells Deadline, “The timing has actually worked out well for us because we’ve got a sporty type show with three footballers hosting it, which is what everyone wants right now because there’s no sports. Hopefully we’ll quench a thirst.”
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The show, which was filmed last year, comes as the basketball season has failed to complete, the baseball season has been interrupted, the Premier League soccer has yet to return and there are question marks as to whether NFL will start back up again later this year.
Rob Wade, President of Alternative Entertainment and Specials at Fox, adds that the timing is fortuitous. “We always had it planned for this summer, but there’s been a lack of physical sporting entertainment on television recently so this will fill that void. I also think there’s an opportunity in this space generally. It feels like the right package for the right time,” he says.
Wade says that the show has elements of Gladiators, American Ninja Warrior, Wipeout and classic format Superstars. He highlights the family entertainment element of the format. “To go into this space, you couldn’t take it too seriously. There’s amazing feats of athleticism, but it also has characters, had an entertainment bent, not just a show about physicality.”
Ultimate Tag was filmed on the Warner Bros lot, in one of its biggest stages. “Scale is so important for broadcast. It’s the biggest concern with COVID. It’s very hard not to have scale in a broadcast show, it’s what the public expects and what network does best and we wanted to make sure that this was a real spectacle,” adds Wade.
The presence of Houston Texans’ JJ Watt, who holds and his brothers, who both play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, elevates the show, says Znak. Wade adds it’s incredibly rare to get current NFL stars to host non-scripted series and the team flew to Houston to pitch JJ after a Skype meeting. “It was a coup to get him.”
Episodes are close ended with a winner each week following a series of men’s games and women’s games. “It’s still a game of tag; you should be able to turn this show on at any time and work out what’s going on, which is someone is running away and someone is chasing,” says Znak.
The show has been in development for a couple of years, before the 2018 film, starring Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner, was released.
Znak says, “We were working on it well before that movie. What was weird, we took it out to pitch just before that movie and I understand there were quite a few copycat pitches after that.”
The ten-part show was also developed in the UK. Znak & Co. previously worked in the big entertainment space on Sky competition format Revolution, which was also piloted at Fox. “What’s interesting about this and the way we work is that we develop in the UK and we tested a lot of the show in the UK. The first development stage, which is testing all of the games, a lot happened in the UK. It’s much more cost-effective to test there, we have a really experienced team, it’s a model that works for us. We want to continue in that model to develop and create shows,” says Znak.
Next up for the Sky-backed production company is taking the format around the world. Znak says it is talking to global broadcasters and has already discussed slightly smaller versions for networks that do not have the same budget as Fox. “There’s already a lot of interest in it internationally,” she says. “We could also hub it. It’s every production company’s dream to hub it so we would love it and we’ve had initial conversations about that.”
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