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The Best Selling Factual TV Shows in the World (That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of)


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These days it’s not enough to come up with a factual TV show that gets commissioned by one TV channel – in order to make money you’ll need to be able to sell it around the world too. And that means knowing what will sell in the global market.

As a rule of thumb, in order for documentaries to be successful around the world they need to stay away from parochial, local subjects and concentrate on themes that people can identify with wherever they are in the world: March of the Penguins (survival against the odds); Touching the Void (friendship/human spirit); Blue Planet (the wonder of nature); The Apprentice (the American dream/ rivalry).

Formats also need to deal with universal themes, but they can be tweaked to suit the local market.

You’ll no doubt be familiar with the likes of  Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire? (sold to 100+ territories), Idol (40+ territories), Dancing with the Stars (30+ territories) and Wife Swap (20+ territories). But, according to major distributors, there are a lot of best selling shows that might not be so familiar.

Here is a list of some of the top sellers – click on the link to find out more:

Silent Library (Orig: Japan, Dist: 2waytraffic International) – A comedy series – a cross between a game of dare and Russian Roulette – sees participants take part outrageous and often painful(ly funny) stunts but forbids the spectators to laugh out loud.

The Phone (Orig: The Netherlands, Dist: Absolutely) – Outdoor game show in which two mobile phones are set to ring in different parts of a city. Whoever picks them up can enter into a series of challenges that could win them $25,000.

The Bubble (Orig: Israel, Dist: All3Media) – Game-show which isolates its contestants from the outside world for seven days before asking them to answer true or false to questions based on the week’s news.

Approved for Love (Orig: Israel, Dist: All3Media) – Format in which friends and family of a singleton audition prospective partners.

The Big Experiment (Orig: New Zealand, Dist: Rogue Productions) – Format show in which people try out someone else’s life: a thin person lives as a fat person; a white person lives as a black person; a man as a woman, etc.

Sensing Murder (Orig: Denmark, Dist: Nordisk Film and Television) – Psychics try to shed light on unsolved murders, armed with only a photograph.

FC Nerds (Orig. Denmark, Dist: Nordisk Film and Television) A group of unfit weeds, nerds and couch potatoes are trained to play a match against a professional football team.

Food Poker (Orig. UK, Dist: Optomen International) – Chefs compete to cook the best meal from ingredients they’re dealt on ‘food cards’.  They can pitch or fold if they don’t think they can cook anything with their ‘hand’ of ingredients.  A panel of experts decide which two dishes out of  the pitched menus and the cook-off commences.

Kitchen Millionaire (Orig. UK, Dist: Outright Distribution) – Home cooks are mentored by experts as they try to turn their secret family recipes into commercially viable products.

Moment of Truth (Orig: Colombia, Dist: ShineReveille International) – Contestants have to truthfully answer 21 personal questions as verified by a lie detector in order to win $500,000.

Oblivious (Orig: UK, Dist: Target Entertainment) – Quiz show in which potential contestants are staked out at the shops or in the hairdressers before they unwittingly find themselves as contestants on a game show.

Green Force (Orig: Canada, Dist: Tricon Film and Television) – Unused and derelict urban spaces are made over with landscaping and plants to improve the environment.

Marriage Under Construction (Orig: Canada, Dist: Tricon Film and Television) – Follows newly-engaged or married young couples as they search for, buy, renovate and decorate their first home.

Read more in Television Business International (click on lower right corner to flick to page 11)


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