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PART 4: JASON BURROWS ON A MOODY CHRISTMAS AND NO ACTIVITY

Jason Burrows, managing director and executive producer at Jungle, discusses A Moody Christmas’ format sale to CBS in the US and talks surrounding No Activity.

Format activity in a nutshell

A format rights option for A Moody Christmas was sold to CBS Television Studios for the US. Trent O’Donnell and Phil Lloyd, creators of the original and partners at Jungle, were attached as writers and executive producers – the third Jungle partner Jason Burrows was also an executive producer. Two scripts were sold to Fox but the deal lapsed. CBS Studios purchased another option in 2015 and is again pitching to the networks. Jungle is also in talks on No Activity, one of its most recent shows.

Get yourself onto any new project

<h6>Jason Burrows</h6><p>Managing Director and Executive Producer of Television, Jungle</p>
Jason Burrows

Managing Director and Executive Producer of Television, Jungle

Doing deals

A Moody Christmas was pitched to all four networks and they all wanted it. We went with Fox and the pilot script was written. It was a very good deal for us because the creators were involved. Many deals are just format sales. Fox liked the first script and then purchased a second. Then Kevin Reilly (chair of entertainment at Fox until mid-2014) left and it fell dead. It is now being re-pitched to the networks by CBS Studios (the production arm of the network) with The Tannenbaum Co attached to produce. (Tannenbaum has a relationship with CBS Television Studios and has been involved throughout.) Trent and Phil will not be the showrunners this time as they have moved on to other things.

“In the scripts of the original A Moody Christmas each episode is set on a different Christmas day, one year apart. This concept is not carried through into what is now being pitched: each series is set in the same year and includes only one Christmas celebration.

“We already have some interest in a US format sale on No Activity, which we’ve just done for Stan (the streaming service launched in 2015 by Fairfax and Nine). Because Trent has been working in the US as series director on New Girl we plan to produce the US version ourselves. We don’t have a distributor and are selling it direct in conjunction with Stan, which has its own contacts through its distribution deals. UTA will lead the process as they are best equipped to do so.”

UTA (United Talent Agency) and talent managers Mosaic, which represents many comedians, represents Jungle but The Gersch Agency represented Jungle at the time of the first A Moody Christmas format sale.

O’Donnell and Lloyd also created Review with Myles Barlow which was remade in the US under the title Review. Two seasons ran on cable company Comedy Central with comedian Andy Daly in the lead role.

<em>A Moody Christmas</em> A Moody Christmas

Title A Moody Christmas
Production Company Jungle
Format 6 x 30 mins
Genre comedy
Premiere 8.30pm, Oct 31, 2012, ABC1
Distributor DCD Rights
Synopsis Dan Moody returns to Australia each year to spend Christmas with his dysfunctional family. A second series, titled The Moodys, followed.
Links abc.net.au/tv/amoodychristmas/episodes/

No Activity series 1

Deal terms

David Field and Dan Wyllie star in <em>No Activity series 1</em> David Field and Dan Wyllie star in No Activity series 1

“The fees would be something like this on a straightforward format sale: an initial 12-month option fee of US$5K with US$5K for each year thereafter; a fee of U$25K if a pilot goes into production; a fee of US$10K per episode if the show goes to series, rising 5% per year; and backend participation of 5% of defined receipts. What constitutes ‘defined’ is very complicated and there’s probably only money from the backend if more than two series are made. All these fees go to the distributor in the first instance.

“In our experience, with original creators involved, the network fees might be in this range: format option fee US$7.5K-10K per episode; pilot script fee US$100K-200K (fees for each episode thereafter would be considerably less); pilot producing fee US$30K-40K; pilot directing fee about US$100K; executive producing fee US$25K-40K per episode; series production bonus US$20K-25K; plus a percentage of receipts from the sales of any new version. Note that fees on cable network shows are usually lower than they are on network shows.

“So without creators attached and not counting the option fees, should a pilot and 21 episodes be made, the fees might be US$235K. Let’s assume the distributor has recouped its investment on the original version through (international) sales: it would then take the first 30% plus 5% in expenses, which is about $70K. The $165K remaining would be split between investors leaving (Jungle) with about 30% – or about $50K. You don’t get rich with that sort of deal. That’s why it’s important to get yourself onto the project – and that money doesn’t have to be shared.”

Looking ahead

“Our experiences have been positive but we always had realistic expectations. And there have been real benefits: it was interesting to go through the pitching process, there’s more awareness that we exist and we’ve met a lot of senior television executives. It also helped Trent to get some directing work on a couple of shows over there and bring that experience back here.”

“We want to make great stuff locally but we are always thinking ‘how will this go internationally?’ Distribution profits on tape (finished program) sales are low by the time the distributor recoups and as a production company we have to make enough money from our fees and overheads locally to be sustainable. One hit in the US and you’re set. Our goal is to have an active production company in the US. The idea of being a POD for a US studio is appealing – or given we would always want to make shows in Australia, a first look deal. (A POD is a production overall deal under which overheads are paid, in return for ownership of all the shows developed. A first look deal is not so all-encompassing)

The US is the only country really where you can make serious money from a TV show. They’ve got distribution networks set up for massive global reach and a big enough audience to get the money up front to make a quality show. On all projects now we ensure we have US format rights, rather than have the distributor take 30%. It gives us control and our agents UTA and Mosaic have better relationships in the US than any distributor that we’ve met.”

<em>No Activity series 1</em> No Activity series 1

Title No Activity
Production Company Jungle
Duration 6 x 30 mins
Genre comedy
Premiere Oct 22, 2015, Stan
Distributor Jungle is handling distribution
Synopsis Two detectives are on a stakeout waiting for the action to unfold.
Links noactivity.com.au

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Wilfred was the first Australian show to be remade in the US with its star attached according to executive producer Joe Connor of Renegade Films. Four series were made there in total with Jason Gann playing the title character alongside Elijah Wood of Lord of the Rings fame. “We were in Cannes trying to sell format rights to Rockwiz and meeting our US agents ICM face to face for the first time. They said ‘We aren’t interested in Rockwiz but have you got anything else?’ We said ‘Well we’ve got a comedy about a bong-smoking dog that thinks he’s human’. After it being pitched to a number of show runners and producers over the course of a year or so, production company Prospect Park, and the producers Rich and Paul Frank, and Family Guy creator David Zuckerman, were brought on and the show was commissioned by FX.” Two seasons were made in Australia and screened on SBS two years apart. Four were made in the US. “They made a few changes to make it more palatable to US audiences. And more returnable: the girlfriend lived next door (not in the same house) so it was more expandable to neighbours and to the outside.” Hiring an American lawyer is “phenomenally” expensive but in retrospect it might have been wise, says Connor. “We were served very well by Jen Lalor at the time but American deals are very tricky in how revenue is calculated. Plus the networks use the proceeds to reinvest in new series. So whilst we were paid ‘episodic fees’ we were a long way away in the recoupment chain and whilst it pays off in the end, neither the episodic fees or the (royalty) disbursements are anything like anyone imagines.”