Chasing flies around a padded cell? Watching toilet tubes sing? The state of television is parlous enough, but with a slew of strange and seemingly ridiculous formats on show at the annual Mipcom market, you can only wonder how far we are from watching paint dry.
Mipcom – or, more formally, Marche International des Programmes de Communication – is television’s giant European shopping mall. In physical terms it’s like the Easter Show: pavilions, showbags and a myriad of sideshow alleys.
But in business terms it’s a crucible in which billions of dollars worth of TV deals are done. Many are for quite substantial things: the Idols, the X Factors and a slew of inventive, original scripted programming. But somewhere in the swirl of madness are some of the most truly ridiculous TV shows you will ever find.
Which brings us, as the market closes for another year, to the dishonour roll: the weird, wonderful highlights of the back alleys of the market.
Man vs Fly
Exactly as it sounds, this reality format puts a man inside a padded room with a fly so the audience can watch them quietly go bonkers attempting to swat it. There is a UK version in development with expert commentary provided by Australian “competitive fly swatting champion” Pat Cowell. It will feature celebrities, such as Pineapple Dance Studios’ Louie Spence. Fortunately it’s short – the episodes are three minutes long. The series is backed by Sony Pictures Television.
Described by its marketers as “The Voice with toilet rolls” this is Sweden’s answer to The Voice Kids, in which audience members fashion puppets out of cardboard inner tubes retrieved from used toilet rolls and send them into the show. They are then featured as either audience members or singers. The series launched in 2010 in Sweden and is, to be fair, pitched at kids. But it has become a hit, drawing more than 1 million votes every week in a country with a population of only 10 million people.
Release The Hounds
Fancy being chased through a dark woodland at night by ferocious dogs and, possibly, eaten to death? Welcome to a format billed as a “horror game show”. Three contestants begin each episode, tasked to make their way through a forest so they can unlock treasure chests. On their tail, a handful of set-up scares, including the eponymous releasing of “the hounds”. This also comes from Sony Pictures Television. A version airs on ITV2 in the UK.
Doesn’t that sound fun? From A&E Networks, this is Survivor meets The Bachelor with a prospective couple dumped in a remote location, and forced to cohabit in a small cabin which has been rigged with hidden cameras. It’s true romance meets going off the grid, intended to see how the couple survive in an extreme scenario.
Celebrity Pole Dancing
You’ve seen them dance, dive, get fit, get fat and sit, plonked on the Big Brother couch. But now you can see celebrities pole dance. One from the “you didn’t know you needed to until a small production company told you so” files, this is exactly what it sounds like: celebrities gyrating on poles, hoping to be declared the poliest pole dancer of them all. The show comes from Newen Network Distribution and Imagina Sales in the Netherlands.
In truth, there are thousands of formats on offer at Mipcom, and few crack the big time. An Australian version of Celebrity Pole Dancing is unlikely to surface anytime soon, though the Man vs Fly and Release The Hounds formats, despite being bizarre, did command some serious discussions in the bars and cafes of Cannes’ Boulevard de la Croisette.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Mipcom has been the emergence of scripted formats as genuinely hot properties in television. For the reality TV format buyers who have historically come to Cannes to outsource their research and development to smarter minds in Scandinavia, that’s been bad news all round. Everyone used to chase the “hot” reality format, but in truth each successive market yields fewer interesting options.
Scripted content, meanwhile, has become a hot property at the market.
Among the scripted series which seemed to make the most noise were the Swedish thriller 100 Code, from Red Arrow, which stars actors Dominic Monaghan and Michael Nyqvist as detectives from opposite sides of the world paired to tackle a murder investigation.
BBC Worldwide, meanwhile, unveiled The Refugees, a science-fiction thriller which tackles a widespread global issue in an extremely inventive way: 3 billion people flee an apocalyptic event in the Earth’s future by travelling back in time to our present.
And the new US drama Wayward Pines, from Fox International Channels, brought a touch of Hollywood to the market, with director/producer M. Night Shyamalan and actor Matt Dillon turning up to spruik their series about a secret service agent who finds himself trapped in a too-perfect small town which is nothing like it seems.
After four days, during which about 12,000 attendees trawlthrough content from some 1700 exhibitors, the Mipcom market effectively wraps up later today. As the last stragglers wander through the Palais des Festivals, many will leave with the market’s overarching theme on their minds: barriers between platforms and screens are breaking down rapidly.
“It isn’t about the size of the screen,” Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney ABC Television Group, said during her keynote speech. “Sometimes it’s about the experience. Sometimes that can be inspired by a relationship, and sometimes by your relationship to the content we’re giving you.”
One can only presume she hadn’t seen Man vs Fly.