ITV America CEO David George has lifted the lid on his company’s recently streamlined strategy, discussing how the production group is keeping Netflix’s Queer Eye fresh, working with CBS to make Love Island a hit in the U.S. and finding his next non-scripted hit.
George was promoted to the top job in January following the departure of Brent Montgomery and has spent the first nine months in the role streamlining its production labels, including Leftfield and ITV Entertainment, as well as balancing the slate of original creations and ITV formats as it continues in a state of “constant development” in an ever-changing marketplace.
Primarily, Pawn Stars producer Leftfield will concentrate on male-skewing projects, ITV Entertainment will focus on big entertainment formats, Sirens will stay female-focused, High Noon will keep renovating in the property and lifestyle genre, while recently launched true crime label Good Caper will look to take advantage of the continued boom in the genre with projects from the likes of Law & Order creator Dick Wolf and O.J Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark. “When I took over, I looked at the entire portfolio and thought the best thing for buyers is to be buying from the best in class and the people that can execute in those genres. The labels should be focusing on the things that the market wants to be buying from them, it’s not rocket science. We streamlined the labels to be focused on specific genres. I think we’re very bullish on the strategy because in an uncertain market, the buyers want certainty.”
“Good Caper is coming out of the gate pretty strong; they’ve got a number of shows with Dick Wolf and we’re excited about the future for them. There’s something that was pitched to Netflix [last week] that looks very good,” George added.
The company is currently in production for season three of Netflix’s breakout reality makeover format Queer Eye, which is produced in association with Scout Productions and stars the likes of Jonathan Van Ness and Tan France. The show won three Emmys earlier this year, which George said was a “validation” of the work that team did to freshen up the format.
“We were nervous when we took the format on because it was such a legendary show and we didn’t want to be the ones that messed it up,” he said. “It’s also great for the industry because there was some question whether non-scripted would work on these OTT platforms so we need that door open.”
Former MTV exec George said it’s been interesting to watch the talent become “known commodities” and admitted that there were challenges going into a third season. “The interesting thing about producing shows for Netflix, they’ve never ordered high volume, so for us we have to find fresh locations with a different feel and interact with different kinds of people.”
The gang travelled to Yass in Australia for one episode (largely for the name) and George revealed that it was discussing some international locations as the show has gone global. “You were seeing reaction from Germany, the UK and Australia, it was fascinating.”
ITV America is now looking at whether it can take what it’s learned from Queer Eye into other shows and George says it’s not necessarily looking to launch more makeover titles. “The interesting thing about Queer Eye, when it was first launched on Bravo it was primarily a makeover show, but this show now is about transformation and there’s a whole kind of political element to it, [taking] the fab five into red state America, where the values are very different. It’s very socially relevant, there’s a lot of difference between blue and red states right now and we felt like that if this show could do one thing, those kinds of people could find common ground.”
“It’s not just a makeover show, there’s a thousand makeover shows, the secret sauce of the show is the fact that it brings different worlds together to find common ground so when we talk about developing new stuff we talk about how we take that and apply it to other things because that’s what this country is craving right now. A lot of unscripted television is very dividing and dramatic with lots of arguing and bickering, everyone loves a train wreck but sometimes it’s nice to watch people hug and cry together,” he added.
Talking of hugging and crying, ITV America recently scored a major deal to remake breakout British reality series Love Island for CBS. George admitted that adapting the show, which features a group of beautiful, young singletons living together and “coupling up” in order to win a cash prize, is a “tough act to follow”. However, he said that while his team won’t necessarily have the luxury of letting it grow over four seasons as ITV2 did, the “cat is out of the bag” and CBS loves the UK version. “So, they want a lot of what the UK is doing brought over here with a U.S. sensibility. We are staying pretty true to the format, those are the initial discussions we have had and it will be easier for us because we’re not looking at very dramatic changes to what’s already gone on.”
In the UK, the show aired six nights a week on ITV’s youth skewing network and while it won’t do that on broadcast network CBS, George revealed that it would likely air at least “a couple times a week” and is in discussions on the schedule right now. He pointed to the fact that CBS airs reality series Big Brother as a help in this.
The show will likely draw a younger audience to the Tiffany Network. “CBS is obviously a mature network and Love Island skews particularly young but that’s also one of the big drivers as to why they wanted it. If promoted properly, it will attract a new audience to CBS, they see this as a big play for the future.”
ITV Entertainment is also waiting to see if its Diddy-fronted talent competition The Four will return for a third season on Fox. While George admitted it wasn’t getting “massive numbers yet”, it was “solid” when total eyeballs had been taken into account.
Earlier this year, as part of ITV’s annual results, the company revealed that it was working with Netflix on Dark Web, a multi-part documentary series looking at the part of the internet not indexed by search engines that features people selling all manner of illegal wares. However, George told Deadline that the show was not moving forward at the SVOD platform due to legal complications. “We’ve got a different version that we think is a little more legal friendly and we are preparing to take that out to the marketplace,” he revealed.
The challenges of balancing the broadcast networks with the emerging platforms – Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Facebook – has “thrown a monkey wrench” into the entire system, he said. This has lead to the proliferation of reboots and remakes and new takes on existing formats, such as Four Weddings for TLC. “You’re in constant development; networks want fresh takes on existing shows and new methodology even on shows that are 10 or 12 seasons old. You have to keep your eyes on the prize with existing shows but then also have to make sure you’re launching new IP, which is really tricky in this marketplace because it’s crowded and known IP is getting more traction than new ideas. It’s easier for a network exec to take a chance on something that has worked than on something that needs a ton of promotion and marketing,” he added.
There’s also huge consolidation in the industry and George said most of his day is taken up navigating this big ticket change. “I can’t think of a U.S. conglomerate at the moment that isn’t going through some specific seismic change,” he said, pointing to AT&T’s purchase of HBO owner Time Warner, and mergers between Disney and Fox and Discovery and Scripps as well as the possibility of CBS and Viacom. “It’s a very interesting time in the business because the model is trying to figure itself out and that trickles down to the production sector and it hurts us and becomes harder to make projections. We’re fortunate that we’re ITV, we’ve got a lot of great things going for us but when I look at some of these mid-range companies, I feel for them. It’s going to be hard for companies with three or four shows to stay in business.”
George will be at Mipcom in Cannes next week to meet his ITV colleagues, including producers from around the world, as well as hunting down the next “diamond in the rough” format that can act as the next The Four, which was based on an Israeli show. “We need to be more of a part of the international market. The U.S. is the biggest content buyer out there but we’re in a bit of a bubble, the rest of the world functions completely different to us so it’s good for us to experience that,” he added.