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Jo Porter, Director of Drama at FremantleMedia Australia, talks Wentworth format sales in Germany and The Netherlands.

Format activity in a nutshell

UFA has produced one series of Wentworth under the title Blok B for RTL in Germany. FourOne.Media has produced three series of Celblok-H for SBS 6 in The Netherlands.

Keeping it in the family

Wentworth is a reimagining of the original series Prisoner, which was produced by Grundy Television and first aired in 1979. Wentworth, therefore, has both been sold as a format and is an adaptation of an existing format. Grundy had great success producing local versions of its many shows in Europe and remade Prisoner in Germany for RTL as Hinter Gitten, which aired in primetime, ran for about eight years and was a huge hit. The Grundy catalogue is now part of FremantleMedia Australia.

<h6>Jo Porter</h6><p>Director of Drama, FremantleMedia Australia</p>
Jo Porter

Director of Drama, FremantleMedia Australia

“We’ve got production companies in pretty much all major territories. Wentworth is a successful show and we like to keep the IP (intellectual property) close. It has been remade in Germany and The Netherlands and both shows are very similar to the Australian version: utilising our scripts and sticking close to our design and camera style. Richard Pleasance has also relicensed his score for use on the soundtrack of Celblok-H.”

“As Wentworth has a big global online community sitting around it we have been very careful to avoid any chance of spoilers in the windowing of any remakes.”

Trusting they’d get it right

“I watched the German version and without being able to speak a word of German could follow along – it stuck very closely to the Australian show. This is a great tribute to the choices made by the entire Australian production and of course the writers, directors and cast. The main difference was that the exteriors had a heightened austerity – there was also a different racial mix of characters. There were questions around having children in prison as that is not always the protocol in other countries but as it was integral to the storyline the producers opted to keep it in.

“We had lots of conversations (with the producers of the new versions) and they all visited the Australian set but I believe you have to pass a show on and let it become theirs. Globally the company made sure they were resourced to do a good job and not damage the brand and I trusted that they would work as hard as we did to try and get it right.

“As Wentworth has a big global online community sitting around it we have been very careful to avoid any chance of spoilers in the windowing of any remakes.”

Nicole da Silva as Franky Doyle in <em>Wentworth</em> Nicole da Silva as Franky Doyle in Wentworth

The value of format vs tape sales

“From a financial point of view (for FremantleMedia Australia and our local investors including Foxtel) international tape (finished program) sales are much more valuable than format sales. That said, for a global company such as FremantleMedia, format sales have a wider value as they drive production in other territories. That in itself enhances the original as a brand and shows the strength and potential of Australian originated content.

“I don’t specifically focus on format potential when I’m developing shows: that wouldn’t feel authentic. The focus is on creating the next must-have program for a broadcaster. Our ambition is to make tape that sells. The most successful television (outside its domestic market) speaks to the specificity of its place of origin and also to universal truths. So while we have a couple of projects in development that we do see as organically having remake potential we also enjoy the independent feedback from our London head office looking at our slate and saying ‘Hey! That’s formatable’.

“I am so proud that (the Australian) Wentworth has sold so well into English-speaking territories and a fourth season is now in production. In the UK on Channel 5, under the title Wentworth Prison, it was the highest rating Australian primetime drama since 2002. This success benefits the Australian industry as a whole as English-language territories become more accepting of our accent on their screens.

“We had conversations about a US remake but the arrival of local women’s prison drama Orange is the New Black has taken oxygen out of that conversation for now. Wentworth itself plays on Netflix. It sits amongst all that fabulous UK and US content and has done extremely well with audiences. It shows how smart Foxtel were in commissioning it and allowing it to be the show it has become.

“Broadcasters like formats because they mitigate risk. They know in advance what they’re going to get. Success begets success. Shows with the most success locally have the most success (as new versions). That said, some of our most successful local relationship dramas possibly wouldn’t work as a format because they have such an acute ear to the local voice or the national character.”

<em>Wentworth series 1</em> Wentworth series 1

Title Wentworth
Production Company FremantleMedia Australia
Duration 10 x 1hr (each new series has been 12 episodes)
Genre drama
Premiere 8.30pm, May 1, 2013, Foxtel’s SoHo
Distributor FremantleMedia International
Synopsis Life is tough for the inmates of the Wentworth Correctional Centre. Wentworth is now available in 89 territories.
Links sohotv.com.au, www.fremantlemedia.com.au


No format options on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries have been sold but there’s been discussions with China, Canada and the US according to producer Fiona Eagger of Every Cloud Productions. In contrast, the show has been sold in its original form to 120 territories. “When the Shanghai Media Group became interested we asked our distributor, all3media, how they felt. They said it would be in Mandarin so it wouldn’t have a great impact on English-speaking markets. It would have been fascinating to be part of a Chinese version and experience how different that system is to ours but the deal is yet to be finalised. Sales are a big component of our finance plan and all3 are incredibly supportive on the show and have a lot invested for sales rights so we are protective of the brand.” At this stage it has been decided not to sell an option in Canada. The US was a more tempting proposition when it was learned that Miss Fisher was being seen as a possible vehicle for actress Catherine Zeta Jones. “Our thinking was that perhaps the show would be separate enough with her in it but she went with another format. We’ll exploit it at some stage though. The great thing about Phyrne Fisher (the lead character) is that she is ageless so many actresses can be considered for that role.” When Every Cloud Productions first financed Miss Fisher the potential to sell format rights was hardly on their radar, unlike now, and these rights were not part of the negotiation with all3media. “But generally I’d say don’t give away anything unless you have to.”