“Storytelling has to be so powerful it will bring people back from night to night”

Producers discuss why some stripped Reality formats work, and others don't.

MasterChef Australia, Married at First Sight, The Biggest Loser were all international formats before they were all successfully “stripped” in Australia (all under Endemol Shine / and previously Fremantle).

But ‘super-sizing’ a show doesn’t always work.

In the USA Holey Moley (created by Australia’s Eureka Productions) screens for 60 minutes once a week.

In Australia it runs as 3 x 90 mins but has proven too demanding of the audience.

Stripped reality shows were the subject of some discussion at the Screen Forever conference yesterday.

“I think we have probably the hardest audience to produce for in the world,” said Stephen Tate, 10 Head of Entertainment and Factual Programs.

“We have such a small number of viewers available to us compared to many other markets. They have incredible taste, and very, very high expectations. Australian audiences are really quite fickle. We have to do more with less in this country …and also niche programming is very, very difficult to get away in this country.”

Debbie Cuell, Executive Producer, Endemol Shine Australia noted, “With those stripped shows the storytelling has to be so powerful it will bring people back from night to night. It’s got to have pull-through. I think that’s why those shows are so powerful and so beautifully made.”

L to R: Andrew Farrell, Stephen Tate, Ben Ulm, Debbie Cuell.

Ben Ulm, Head of Reality & Factual, ITV Studios Australia said stripped reality shows were necessary because of competition elsewhere, but agrees there are dangers.

“Take a show like, Holey Moley, it’s a terrific show. But with great hindsight, I think stripping it across a week was something that that clearly hasn’t worked. I can imagine 10, 20, 30 years ago, you’d lean forward to watch that on a Sunday night. A bit like It’s A Knock-Out or another show like that.”

“It comes back to story,” impressed Cuell. “With Holey Moley there’s not a lot of story there, It’s a great action show. But what’s the story that’s going to bring you back? You want something that is not going to give them a choice the next night, because the story the night before was so powerful they’re going to watch it again the next night.”

“You could say the same about Ninja,” Tate said, “which was a runaway success -pretty much the same event, night after night. But it had such a sense of ‘event’, it really worked. It probably helped that it had great eye candy as well.

“When audiences come to a new program, they’re having to make a commitment, often to a multi night situation. So they need to form a relationship. And to your point, I think it does come down to the casting… getting that casting right, so that the audience are actually invested and wanting to stay, night after night.”

There was also agreement about having a strong singular premise in stripped formats.

Married at First Sight as big and noisy and tabloid as it is now.. the premise is strong. Research says that arranged marriages have actually quite a good success rate and marriages where we collide accidentally, don’t,” said Ulm.

Cuell added, “If you look at MasterChef, (it has) things in life that everyone relates to. Everyone wants love, everyone wants to eat nice food. Cooking and love are very relatable.”

19 Responses

  1. Holey Moley is great entertainment, the problem is its 90 minutes and 3 days a week. If it were once a week it would be a much better series. Maybe if they go into season 2 which i don’t know if they will, they will take a look at that. I’m honestly over stripped formats. They might have good concepts but they’re becoming padded and stale for me. We have become too reliable on reality tv.

  2. I don’t mind Holey Moley but I have fixed the problem for Channel 7, I am watching it on their catch up service at a rate of maybe 2 episodes a week when I feel like watching it. Makes it a much better watch than back to back to back.

    1. That’s a good question actually – do these people actually watch their networks? Quite different watching a preview tape ad-free rather than the show as it is broadcast, although I expect the execs have people to watch their shows for them.

  3. I’m glad they’re recognising the strip hasn’t worked for Holy Moly. I really like the show but there’s not enough holes for this many episodes this often and I’ve been losing interest. It’s literally the same set ups and the highlights are now waiting for that gold nugget of banter between Shervo and Riggle. Gladiators was a big show with more events shown less often and it worked brilliantly. Imagine that brought back with Riggle commentating…

  4. I’ve been in so many screenings where anything daring or different gets completely striped out, and that’s from both production house executives and network executives.

    FTA is so dumbed down, and so repetitive it’s just not worth investing in. Anything outside documentaries feels like the same thing over and over, regardless of what show it is. AMA the other night with the stupid crocodile vision inserted into a scene to increase tension? Give us a break, no one is buying this tripe.

    It’s their own fault nothing is really hitting 600k anymore.

    1. Unless you are conflating arranged marriage with forced marriage, there really isn’t much of a difference (apart from being followed around everywhere with cameras, of course).

      1. Huge difference. First off you don’t meet the spouse at the alter, you have a few months to get to know them before deciding to marry and it is usually the parents who arrange the marriage so generally you will know the person long before as they are normally part of the social circle. And to compare the divorce rate like Ulm does is silly because these are cultures where divorce is frowned upon so they bend over backwards and put up with a lot more to keep their marriages together. MAFS is like spoof of arrange marriage😂.

  5. The commercial networks have been too narrow-sighted for the last 10-15 years. Big Brother and MKR had far too much influence on the stripped format we’re stuck with now. It worked for those shows (to a point) but the execs have dumbed everything down with this blanket approach to every show. Three 90 min golf episodes a week? Grow up. Streaming services are by and large the only place to find quality drama & comedy series in Aus now. It’s no wonder audiences have deserted FTA in droves.

  6. My family and I love Holey Moley, it’s the first show in a long time that we all watch together. There is just too much – one night a week would be perfect.

  7. If Seven wanted to pad out Holey Moley, then they should have stockpiled the episodes and play them once a week rather than bombarding the audience with 90 minute episodes thrice weekly. No wonder people are switching off in droves.

  8. Holey Moley is probably the best produced Aussie show I’ve seen in years. A step above what else is out there… but I agree better suited for one or maybe two nights a week.

  9. “We have such a small number of viewers available to us compared to many other markets”

    And yet in other ways Australian networks / producers are blessed. Pay TV has such low penetration in AU (1/3 that of Canada and the US) lower than UK, NZ even…. aussie networks have a massive head start here compared to other countries where more viewing happens off FTA

  10. I refuse to read or watch anything to do with mafs but this article drew me in as there were 2 other programs.
    At first look, I thought Bec Maddern was appearing on mafs to help improve Weekend Today’s ratings……….

  11. Clearly they have no clue as to Australian viewers, perhaps instead of bombarding viewers with constant manufactured drama intertwined with insane levels of advertisement, produce actual entertaining television. my family, 2 adults 2 children, kids loved HM, but not 3 nights a week, it would have been perfect Fri night family time. My wife & I love AMA, but with the volume of adds to push it out to 90 mins I am struggling to stay interested, shows cant flow with constant adds, as for anything relationship based, forget it, utter trash. Master Chef and AMA for me as they contain the least manufactured drama, but are still a struggle, too many adds, too much time commitment

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