How ‘MasterChef’ Became The Master Of The Universe: Mipcom

At Mipcom today, MasterChef U.S./Italian judge Joe Bastianich and Shine regional CEOs revealed the ingredients and challenges in keeping the successful cooking franchise alive in their respective parts of the world.

Mark Fennessy, CEO Shine Australia, spoke about how the trades initially threw tomatoes at MasterChef as it was taking over the slot of Big Brother in Oz. Yet despite that programming swing, the show, like a tortoise, slowly built up its ratings. Fennessy admitted that Australian audiences were a bit fatigued after being stuffed with iterations of the franchise, i.e. MasterChef Junior. and Celebrity MasterChef. “When we struggled with (the core) MasterChef between seasons four and five, you try to figure out how to manage the broadcaster,” said Fennessy about how Shine kept it vibrant in Oz. Nonetheless, the main show counts six seasons.

While it might seem bold to program French and Italian versions of MasterChef, what has kept the series intact with viewers in their respective countries has been their devotion to serving up the local cuisine and not veering from it. The proof is in the pudding: Fennessy cited that 80 contestants from the Australian version have segued to professional cooking careers in his country, while Bastianich, who judges the Italian version, touted that cooking school enrollments in Italy are up 50% because of the show’s phenomenal success there. “The show has changed the vernacular in terms of how Italians talk about food,” beamed Bastianich.

Bastianich mentioned that more than food, the success of the franchise boils down to “storytelling” and “the casting which keeps the show fresh.” In fact, the core sensibility of MasterChef around the globe centers on unprofessional cooks, prevailing beyond their means to become a greater chef than they ever dreamed. Describing how he launched the Italian version, Bastianich said bluntly, “The Italians came over while we were doing season 2 in America. I speak Italian. I took the Italians out for pizza and they said, ‘Why don’t you come out and be a judge for Italy?” He even brought along his mom, Lidia Bastianich, to the homeland as a MasterChef Junior judge (she is also celebrity chef in the U.S.). While MasterChef Junior vies to display the crème de la crème when it comes to aspiring juvenile chefs, Bastianich remarked that there’s a cultural difference in Italy in terms of how the kids are treated on the show. “Kids have to be physically nurtured in Italy, you can’t have that Anglo-Saxon removal that’s drawn between kids and adults in the U.S. and the UK,” said the restaurateur (Bastianich didn’t expound further on this during the panel; whether MasterChef Junior Italian contestants actually get whacked on the head whenever they slip up).

Despite billing itself as “the most successful cooking format on earth” with a presence in 52 countries on every continent, there are still uncharted parts of the globe without MasterChef. “In South America, we’re only in four countries,” said Shine International CEO Nadine Nohr.

Like many successful unscripted formats today – read Idol, Biggest Loser, the longevity of the MasterChef’s format boils down to its adaptability, not to mention the right selection of judges is key. Said Nohr, “From a risk management point of view, you want to establish the brand in the ratings before growing to other ancillary versions. Some markets air it stripped down, in other places it’s a weekly show. MasterChef has a flexibility to adapt to cultural diversity.”

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