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The Content Hub: How formats are created?

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MUMBAI: On the day first day of The Content Hub masterclass, The Format People CCO and partner Justin Scroggie, spoke about how ideas are generated and then turned into formats for television.

Defining a format as a series that travels and something that can be adapted in another territory, Scroggie emphasised  that certain elements in a format determine how effective it is.  In the making of a television programme, the order of television elements, both original and common, have to be in such a way that a distinctive narrative progression is created.  These elements could be: set, cast, rules, prize money, audience connect or any other element that make up a television show. Scroggie cited the reality show, ‘Canada’s worst driver’ as an example where the element of ‘elimination’ came as a twist wherein the contestants wanted to get eliminated instead of the avoiding it. He elaborated that the level of originality depends on the order of these elements and how one can give the audience something new. There needs to be a precise beginning, middle and end to each format.  According to him, formats need to address three important things - people (who are involved), action (what they have to do) and motivation (why they have to do it).  The audience needs to know the genre and core subject of the show.

“In order to generate good television ideas, one should start of by watching television content, in a genre that is unfamiliar to you,” he said. By watching television shows that one is not used to, he/she becomes aware of what else is happening around the realm and it helps in developing better ideas. “The wider your own television experience is, the more broadly you will be able to think”, he added. 

Scroggie believes that television influences the way in which people behave, speak and think.

There are several methods from which good content and format can be created.  “When we start thinking of ideas, we tend to go down the familiar path. That is how our brains are designed. We need to find ways to trick our way out of that”, he informed.

He went on add that, one can simply begin with a phrase, proverb, movie title or lyrics as a starting point for an idea. For example, one can take the idea of the film title, ‘Frozen’ and formulate a dating show wherein the guy ‘freezes’ upon meeting his date and how he overcomes the same.  Ideas can also be generated by changing the angle of a simple show. For example, one can take a simple cooking show and look at it from another angle, that could possibly also highlight domestic problems between married couples. Scroggie added, “When you take a married couple and put them in a kitchen, particularly ‘her’ kitchen, there are bound to be difficulties”.

Another method of creating ideas would be to take an existing show and reverse it. “Things can basically start from anywhere. By reversing ideas, it will help you open up fresh and new stuff”, he commented.

 ‘Secret Millionaire’ is one such show, that starts with the contestant having a million dollars at the beginning and then starts losing it as the game progresses.

A lot of formats follow a set of narratives. “Audiences like stories with a familiar shape to it, that’s why even movies follow a familiar shape of a beginning, middle and end. Shows have different narratives that add to the value of the show.” he added. Similarly for television, narratives can be applied to the basic themes. One needs to understand these narratives in order to come up with successful formats.

Narratives can be in the form of a make-over as showed in programmes like ‘American dream builders’, ‘Shamba shape up’ and “Let me in” or follow a campaign narrative, like the show ‘Dream school’. There is also the swap narrative format.

According to Scroggie, successful formats are majorly designed along the lines of the ‘fish out of water’ narrative where you put a person or group of people in an unfamiliar situation, out of their comfort zone. “It is a common narrative where you see the outcome of putting people in an unfamiliar situation,” he stated and added, “Narratives that are experimental are also picking up fast these days. Unlike most reality shows that are scripted, experimental narrative has a lot more honesty to it. People want to see open-ended shows where nobody really knows what is going to happen next”.

Apart from that, a creator or writer of a show should try and break rules that could possibly bring about twists in the show. One should also keep an emotional connect with the audience. “You should be clear about the kind of reaction you want from the audience. It could be a feeling of happiness or anger”. 

Last but not the least, titles play an important part in grabbing attention.

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