Syndicators Shop Formats Abroad

Dr. Oz and The Doctors among formats finding new international homes

With the pressure on to find money everywhere they can, studios are selling a few first-run syndicated shows internationally as locally adaptable formats.

Syndicators long have sold the original versions of shows abroad. CBS Television Distribution’s Oprah airs in nearly 150 countries. Oprah, however, is dependent on its host’s personality and is not easily duplicable.

On the other hand, game shows are frequently sold as formats: CTD’s Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, both produced by Sony, are two of the U.S.’s most successful TV exports. And CTD has sold Entertainment Tonight as a format in a few markets over the years. Currently, one version is airing in Canada, where it’s paired with the U.S. version.

After receiving several inquiries for its talk show The Doctors, CBS Studios International last fall took the show out as a format, says Paul Gilbert, CBS’ senior VP of international formats. The show just started airing in Ukraine in January, and producers in French Canada, Poland, Spain and France also are working on versions.

The Doctors is a true format because besides providing licenses, we also provide a production bible, scripts, research material, and the part that’s a little unusual—most of the video segments that were produced for the show itself and any animations the producers created to show different procedures. We give all that as part of the format feeds,” Gilbert says.

Likewise, Sony has applied its experience to its new syndicated hit Dr. Oz, which it’s sold as a format into two markets: the Middle East and Russia.

“Because health and wellness are universal topics that resonate with people around the world, this format is uniquely suited to be customized in individual markets,” said Ed Louwerse, managing director of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s international production company, 2waytraffi c, in a statement. The U.S. version of Dr. Oz also has been sold in 82 territories.

Warner Bros. is dipping its toe into this market, too, offering local production on current shows TMZ, Extra, The People’s Court, Judge Jeanine Pirro and Judge Mathis as well as older titles Love Connection, Change of Heart, Street Smarts and Elimidate. Selling these shows as formats can help studios such as Warner Bros. find more money in a show and, in the case of the older shows, keep them generating revenue.

While all of those shows are available for local markets, Warner Bros. remains more focused on selling primetime series as formats. It’s currently offering Without a Trace as a format, with a version being produced in France.

Still, it’s the rare syndicated show that ends up as a format in a foreign market. Most talk shows, like Oprah, succeed because of their star, and court shows are based on the U.S. system of jurisprudence and don’t translate.