the process of international format sales the basic format of a
programme is sold (or licensed) to a foreign production company
to enable them to create a domestic version of the product. This
practice, while more and more common, is hardly new.
In U.S. television's infancy it was common for successful radio
shows to transfer to television (a practice incidentally that still
takes place in the United Kingdom). The most popular of these early
radio to TV transfers were game shows and human interest shows such
as This Is Your Life which made it's U.S. TV debut in 1952
and Candid Camera which was adapted from radio's Candid
Microphone in 1948. This initiative demonstrated the durability
and flexibility of certain formats and alerted programme creators
to the feasibility of secondary usage of their creations. The rapid
rise in popularity of television in the United States and the proliferation
of networks to serve the public produced an ever increasing demand
for programming so that, even by the early 1950s, a great number
of formats had been tried and tested. The BBC Television service
in Britain may have started three years before its U.S. counterpart
but the U.S. service grew far more quickly (and didn't have a five
year hiatus because of World War II, as did the BBC). The U.S. systems,
consequently, were far more advanced in the areas of programme formats
by the early 1950s when the BBC began to purchase successful formats
from the United States. A year after What's My Line debuted
on CBS in 1950, the format rights were bought by Maurice Winnick
for the BBC. The show proved as successful in the United Kingdom
as in the United States. The original format for What's My Line
had been developed by former radio announcer Mark Goodson and former
radio writer Bill Todman who had formed the Goodson-Todman Production
Company in 1946. The Goodson-Todman company became the acknowledged
masters of format development and created a slew of formats that
were to sell successfully in many territories and be revived domestically
on occasion, especially during the game show revival of the 1970s.
(Other successful game show format holders include Chuck Barris
and Merv Griffin.) Formats that sold in English speaking territories
would often spawn shows with the same name as the original, hence
The Price is Right and Beat the Clock are titles as
famous in the United Kingdom as in the United States. On other occasions
the names of the new shows differ from the originals: in the United
Kingdom, The Match Game is known as Blankety Blank
and Family Feud is retitled Family Fortune.
With the United State's head start on format development expertise
it was quite a while before the trend was reversed and the United
States started buying formats in. The first game show the United
Kingdom sold to the United States was Whodunnit in 1979 but
in the 1960s another genre proved to be exportable: Comedy.
the huge potential financial rewards associated with a successful
long-running situation comedy, U.S. producers were quick to exploit
series formats that had been hits in the United Kingdom, rationalising
that some of them would translate to an American audience. As early
as the mid-1960s such experiments were undertaken. At that time
film producer Joseph E Levine decided to expand his empire (Embassy
Pictures) to include network television and had the idea of acquiring
the rights to produce an American version of the runaway U.K. hit
sit-com Steptoe and Son. This was an ambitious move as Steptoe
and Son was quite extreme, more hard hitting "kitchen-sink"
drama than traditional sit-com. But Levine thought the hard edges
could be softened enough to make the series palatable for the U.S.
audience who, after all, had already demonstrated a willingness
to identify with the working class by making The Honeymooners
such a success in its time. Beefy film actor Aldo Ray was cast
alongside Lee Tracey, but the pilot remained unsold. This remained
the case until years later when Norman Lear would produce a successful
U.S. version of the series, Sanford and Son. This adaptation came,
however, after Lear had already changed the face of the U.S. sit-com
genre with another U.K. format buy, Till Death Us Do Part
which became the groundbreaking All In The Family.
success with these format changes gave rise to many similar deals.
While many of the attempts at format copying have been failures,
there have been notable successes. Man About the House (U.K.)
spawned the United States Three's Company, Keep it in
the Family translated as Too Close for Comfort, etc.
Certain companies (such as D. L. Taffner) specialise in format transfers,
knowing enough about both markets to make astute decisions on whether
a show would travel. Most successful British sit-coms are scrutinised
carefully by U.S. producers and a huge percentage are optioned for
a format change. Occasionally the trend occurs in reverse (the U.S.
Who's the Boss emerging in the United Kingdom as The Upper
Hand, The Golden Girls becoming The Brighton Belles)
but this is far rarer, almost certainly because most successful
U.S. sit-coms appear in the United Kingdom in their original format.
The United States' domination of the entertainment media results
in local audiences being au fait with American society and
culture and thus more willing and able to consume the original.
Eric. "Sitcom Formats Fail to Please on Germany's RTL." Variety
(Los Angeles), 29 March 1993.
Debra. "Format Fever: The Risks and Rewards." Broadcasting &
Cable (Washington, D.C.), 23 January 1995.
_______________. "King World International Has Licensed Format Rights
to Jeopardy! to Poland's Telewizja Polska." Broadcasting
& Cable (Washington, D.C.), 23 October 1995.
Jeremy. The Media Are American: Anglo-American Media In The World.
London: Constable, 1977.
Steven S., and Bruce M. Owen. Video Economics. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1992.
Michael. "U.S. Formats Boost Danish Pubcaster." Variety (Los
Angeles), 27 April 1992.
in the Family; Quiz
and Game Shows; Goodson,
Mark and Bill Todman; Lear,
and Son; Steptoe
and Son; Till
Death Us Do Part