Finding the right balance between drama and comedy was the central theme of today’s MIPFormats panel, called “Spot the Talent: Scripted Comedy Formats“. It featured (left to right) EMC‘s Christoph Fey (moderator), KABO Family‘s Christian Baumard, Makever‘s Matthieu Viala and Sarah Watson, writer and executive producer of NBC series Parenthood.
Baumard and Viala both represent companies with hugely successful comedies in their native France, respectively Scènes de ménages and Kaboul Kitchen. The latter, which tells the story of French expats who set up a restaurant in Afghanistan, has been sold as-is to numerous countries, and a UK adaptation, set in Irak, is currently underway.
“Buyers prefer to have more drama than fact,” said Viala on the mix between drama and comedy, especially in such a real-life context. “Strong characters are the key in dramedy,” he added.
Fey also shared the example of Entreatment, originally an Israeli format, but which now exists as forty different versions throughout the world.
For Watson, who just wrapped the sixth and final season of Parenthood, a show “about a huge, very close, sometimes annoying family but the one you wish you had,” as she put it. “I’d definitely describe it as a dramedy,” she added. “That’s what’s so beautiful about the show and life. And a lot of the dramatic moments become funny, so it’s something everyone can relate to.”
As if to disprove her point, Watson showed one of the programme’s most moving scenes, in which a young character grapples with Asperger Syndrome. “If I’m smart,” he says, “why don’t I get why they’re laughing at me?” An instant tear-jerker, including for many in the audience…
Parenthood is now being developed as a format, in Italy. “Production started a month ago,” said Watson. “The producer tells me it’s been easy to adapt, and they’ve been sticking pretty closely to the script. We just have to adapt a few cultural nuances.”
Chemistry between the actors is also a key sticking point when adapting comedy formats worldwide. “We had a format called The Invincibles, a French show about four guys who dump their girlfriends,” said Viala. “For the remake, it was really hard to find the right cast. Especially as the four original actors were friends. So the four new ones spent months, together to become friends” before shooting even started!
For Watson, this interplay is encouraged in Parenthood by allowing for some improvisation. “We let them say some of their own lines, so there’s a lot more chemistry between the actors.”