EXCLUSIVE: Reinout Oerlemans is best known as the man who created Eyeworks, the European production group that became one of the world’s largest independent producers before selling to Warner Bros in a deal worth about $273 million.
For the past seven years, he has been living and working in Los Angeles as chairman of 3BMG, formerly known as 3 Ball Entertainment, the production company behind such series as Bar Rescue.
However, he’s not content with running things from the boardroom and has now pivoted to the role of chief creative officer, alongside his chairman title, to get his hands dirty in development.
The move has already started to pay dividends, with 3 Ball Productions scoring a CBS series order for Come Dance With Me, exec produced by NCIS: Los Angeles stars LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell, and in his latest deal, revealed by Deadline today, has set up Belgian COVID-friendly entertainment format The Container Cup at TBS.
“For me, part of the process of reinventing myself was going all the way back to the one thing that made me happiest and that’s the creative functions, being part of forcing ideas, nurturing ideas, making things happen, and then sticking with them,” he told Deadline.
Eyeworks, which eventually grew to include 16 production companies, was essentially built on formats that Oerlemans created such as Test the Nation, which aired on Fox in 2003. “Never bet against a Dutchman,” one source that has worked closely with Oerlemans told Deadline.
The Eyeworks sale emerged at the start of 2014, but it did not include Eyeworks USA, which was essentially 3 Ball Productions, the production company set up by J.D. Roth and Todd Nelson that Oerlemans invested into in 2006. Ross Weintraub was named co-CEO in 2015 as part of a re-rebrand back to its original name. Last year, Weintraub, who Oerlemans calls the “big brother” of the U.S. reality industry, became sole CEO of 3 Ball Entertainment and, earlier this year, it established a new parent company, 3BMG, to allow it to incubate a number of joint ventures including Jeff Jenkins Productions with the former Keeping Up With the Kardashians exec producer alongside its own in-house unit.
Oerlemans said he’s finally able to move back into the creative operation, something he wasn’t able to do running Eyeworks or while they were getting 3 Ball on a solid footing.
“I can be the creative, and the chairman, but Ross [Weintraub] leads the partnership. He’s absolutely in charge of all the things that I don’t necessarily want to be in charge of. Having that partnership with someone and being able to free up my mind totally to work with the creative team, I’ve never had that experience before but it is absolutely amazing to be part of it, and in the number-one market in the world,” he said.
Oerlemans believes this is a crucial time to be in the world of unscripted, given the importance of entertainment formats to networks and the fact that other than The Masked Singer, there arguably hasn’t been a major international breakout format since the launch of The Voice in 2010.
He hopes that Come Dance With Me, which features talented young dancers and an inspirational but untrained family member who has supported their dreams competing for a grand prize, becomes that.
“I want to launch a new U.S. format that has massive international appeal. That’s what makes me tick, to launch new loud, big formats that actually originate in the United States and that travel across the globe,” he said. “If you look at the networks, the non-scripted shows are such an important part for them, particularly as a source of income because the product is so much cheaper than scripted in most of the cases.”
But he says that some U.S. buyers were previously motivated by fear – fear of what their competitors might be doing – rather than the strength of a new idea. “In smaller markets, the budgets are way smaller, people tend to make more mistakes, but then some of the big shows arise as well,” he said. “Why is it a little bit different in the United States? Because it’s such a massive market, there’s not a lot of room for faults or mistakes because the stakes are so high.”
He also says there’s a focus on pitching and selling rather than crafting a great show that can run for years.
“I see a lot of companies that have an idea, they sell it and that’s great but then they’re off to the next one. But what I want to make sure is to put the buyer front and center,” he said. “I want to make great new shows and have them make a lot of noise, but I’m not in the volume business any more, which is an unbelievable feeling. I tell my team we have only one goal and the one and only goal is get to the second season because if we’re able to do that then we did a good job and that’s what we’re all aiming for.”
But Oerlemans, who was the star of a Dutch soap in his younger days and hosted local versions of Idol and Strictly Come Dancing, is himself considered an impressive pitchman by his European peers. The one issue sources highlight is that it can be tough for the likes of Oerlemans, as well as fellow Dutch mega-producers like John De Mol, to re-create the success they had in Europe in the States.
Oerlemans will be looking to break that tradition and hoping his latest show, in development with WarnerMedia’s TBS, can help. The Container Cup is a pandemic-proof show based on a Belgian format that aired on local network Vier in April. The series pits athletic celebrities against professional athletes in a series of intense challenges covering a number of sports, except it all takes place inside two massive shipping containers, each equipped with numerous cameras and delivered directly to the competitors’ respective homes.
Oerlemans said “there’s so much we can do with the format,” which is being worked up with TNT, TBS & truTV unscripted boss Corie Henson and her team. “There was a lot of interest internationally and U.S. producers were knocking on the door, but I said to the [producers] in Belgium that we are going to be very passionate with what we do with the show. It’s not like we buy 10 shows to see if we can sell them. We’ve got to put our weight behind it because we believe in this,” he added.
The show can be produced under COVID-safe guidelines but he is also aiming high in terms of talent and celebrities that could feature. “Sometimes, I say ‘never waste a good crisis’,” he said. “It started COVID-related in Belgium but there is so much more to this. We want to really blow it up and make it fun and intense to look at.”
In his new creative role, Oerlemans said he hasn’t had this much fun in a long time. “Just to be able to focus on something without all the noise around it of business or making deals and those kind of things,” he said. “I feel like a kid in a candy store.”