How soap power helped Grundy to clean up in Europe

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The Independent Online
Grundy Worldwide specialises in what it calls "parochial internationalism" for the small screen. More bluntly, it earns around $80m (pounds 51m) annually by supplying locally produced versions of game shows and drama serials, using the tongue of the host country.

So the daytime game show we know in Britain as Going for Gold converts into the French prime-time hit Questions pour un Champion. The Australian serial The Restless Years becomes Goede Tijden, Slechte Tidjen (Good Times, Bad Times) in the Netherlands, and is now being made in German, while Sons And Daughters becomes into another German hit, Verbotene Liebe (Forbidden love).

Grundy has a huge new "soap factory" in Cologne to handle these new commissions. It's a cost-effective sausage machine for drama - it makes soaps at half the price of Coronation Street. No episode is shot in sequence: all the kitchen scenes for a batch are shot together, before switching to, say, 10 shots in the swimming pool. "If it's 4.20 and the schedule says this scene is going to be shot, if you go into the studio, that's exactly what you'll see," marvels a visitor.

The company's pragmatic trick lies in marrying two observations about human nature: people all over the world are interested in the same things, and they prefer to relax watching local television programmes, using their own people and language.

Since there is no language barrier, Grundy's relationship with British television is a bit different. BBC1, its most important single customer, has been able to repeat the Australian version of Neighbours and has signed an unusual five-year contract, guaranteeing supplies to its regular 7 million to 8 million daily fans until 2000.

However, Grundy's UK base, under the direction of Alan Boyd, its light entertainment supremo, has been building up its supply of new "infotainment" programmes. Grundy now has five shows on the BBC and ITV: How Do They Do That?, Eureka, Pot of Gold, Celebrity Squares and Small Talk.

Grundy's low-cost/high-rating formula is greatly admired by cost-conscious broadcasters worldwide. But the downside is that ratings-driven television ruthlessly cancels wilting formats. Still, with British television cutting back costs and aiming for ever higher audience figures, the once-derided Grundy now looks like the model for the future.

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