Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Nickelodeon Names Adam Conover as Maze Master of 'The Crystal Maze'


Nickelodeon is bringing the legendary UK hit game show The Crystal Maze to the U.S. in an all-new version, co-produced by Bunim/Murray Productions (The Real World, The Challenge, Born This Way) and RDF Television (Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, Wife Swap, Shipwrecked), all under the Banijay Group. A longtime staple of British pop culture and family entertainment, The Crystal Maze--considered the forerunner to the current escape room craze--is a competitive challenge featuring a family team who must utilize physical and mental skills to successfully navigate an elaborate labyrinth of four giant and immersive themed zones. Guiding teams through each challenge and adventure around the Crystal Maze will be Maze Master Adam Conover, a comic famed for his work on College Humour, TV series Adam Ruins Everything, and Netflix's BoJack Horseman.

Production on the new series (10 one-hour episodes) took place on the show's original set located at The Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol, England, earlier this summer. The series premiere will be announced at a later date.

“As Nickelodeon embraces co-viewing opportunities for every member of the family, The Crystal Maze brings a new type of action game and storytelling to audiences with its escape room-style gameplay and emphasis on collaboration and teamwork to win,” said Rob Bagshaw, Executive Vice President, Nickelodeon Unscripted Content.

The Crystal Maze has long served as a staple of the UK entertainment landscape and we could not be happier to be reinventing the show for a younger demo alongside our sister companies, RDF and Stephen David Entertainment. Acting as the first series for BMP’s Kids and Family Division, the show will build on our reputation in the competitive game space and we’ve no doubt by partnering with Nickelodeon, we can build a new audience for this brand in the U.S.,” said Gil Goldschein, Chief Executive Officer, Bunim/Murray Productions.

Nickelodeon’s version of The Crystal Maze will feature a team of family members tackling a range of challenges in zones collectively known as The Crystal Maze. Each successful game is rewarded with a ‘time crystal’ that equals five seconds in the centerpiece Crystal Dome. The adventure culminates in a spectacular finale, as the team enters the Dome to grab a cash prize as it flies around them during a dramatic clock countdown.

A current ratings smash in the UK, The Crystal Maze has been a beloved family and cult favorite since the mid ‘90s, with the current global popularity of the escape room phenomena reigniting interest further. The show was recently rebooted to great success with celebrity, charity and family seasons in UK, Australia and beyond.

Devised by Jacques Antoine, the UK version of The Crystal Maze was originally hosted by Richard O'Brien (Rocky Horror), followed by Ed Tudor-Pole. The reboot was originally presented by Stephen Merchant (for Stand Up To Cancer), and currently by Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, Travel Man) with his "hand." The show's theme song is the legendary "Force Field", below. The show is currently filmed at The Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol.

Nickelodeon's The Crystal Maze is executive produced by Gil Goldschein and Maria Pepin from Bunim/Murray Productions, Neale Simpson from Fizz, part of RDF Television, and Stephen David from Stephen David Entertainment. Production of The Crystal Maze for Nickelodeon is overseen by Rob Bagshaw, Executive Vice President, Unscripted Content.

About Bunim/Murray Productions

Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP) is the leading producer of innovative entertainment content. The Emmy Award-winning company is widely credited with creating the reality television genre with its hit series The Real World, which is moving to Facebook after 32 seasons on MTV. BMP continued to innovate with the first reality game show, Road Rules (MTV), in 1995; the first reality sitcom, The Simple Life (E!), in 2003; and the first reality soap opera, Starting Over, in 2003. BMP’s current programming includes Keeping up with the Kardashians, Total Divas and Total Bellas (E!), The Challenge and Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club (MTV), Born This Way (A&E), Earth Live (National Geographic), The Real World and Ball in the Family (Facebook Watch), Endless Summer and Growing Up is a Drag (Snapchat), Miz and Mrs. (USA Network), and Family or Fiance (OWN). BMP has also produced They Call Us Monsters (PBS), Valentine Road (HBO), Pedro (MTV) and the Emmy Award-winning Autism: The Musical (HBO) for BMP Films. Based in Glendale, CA, the company was founded in 1987 by Jonathan Murray and the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, who were inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 2012. The company joined Banijay Group in 2010.

About Nickelodeon:

Nickelodeon, now in its 40th year, is the number-one entertainment brand for kids. It has built a diverse, global business by putting kids first in everything it does. The brand includes television programming and production in the United States and around the world, plus consumer products, digital, location based experiences, publishing and feature films. For more information or artwork, visit http://www.nickpress.com. Nickelodeon and all related titles, characters and logos are trademarks of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIA, VIAB).

Update (10/29) - The Award Winning Documentary Filmmaker, Videographer and Camera Operator Phoebe Holman has shared some fantastic behind-the-scenes photos from the filming of Nickelodeon's The Crystal Maze in September 2019! "The many different worlds of being a shooting Producer/Director on The Crystal Maze USA. Such a fun job and love Bottleyard yard studios" Holman captioned her Instagram post. The photos also confirm that the Aztec, Industrial and Futuristic Zones will be featured in Nickelodeon's The Crystal Maze!:

More Nick: Nickelodeon Embarks on New Direction with its Biggest, Most Wide-Ranging Content Slate Ever!

From C21 Media:

Navigating the maze

Channel 4’s rebooting of iconic 1990s gameshow The Crystal Maze was difficult enough, but US children’s network Nickelodeon has taken it one step further by remaking it as a kids’ show. Clive Whittingham reports.

Nickelodeon’s version of The Crystal Maze features families of five

Mention The Crystal Maze to Brits of a certain generation and watch them go all misty eyed. The show, a sort of UK take on French format Fort Boyard, aired for six seasons on commercially funded public broadcaster Channel 4 in the 1990s and was staple viewing for a generation of kids, young adults and families.

Remaking the show for a modern audience, as C4 and the show’s producer, Banijay-owned RDF Television, have done successfully in recent years, came with two main challenges. The first was the set.

For the uninitiated, The Crystal Maze sees a team of five or six contestants tackle physical, mental or mystery games divided between four themed zones: Aztec, Industrial, Future and a fourth that has rotated through Medieval, Underwater, Eastern and others. Successfully completing the games in the allotted time wins the team crystals, which in turn win the team five seconds of time in a giant dome where they must collect 100 gold tokens being wafted around by giant fans to claim the grand prize.

The original set was gargantuan and notorious. Health and safety was not a primary concern and a 50ft rat-infested river snaked through the middle of it. Persuading a broadcaster to build another was always going to be a big obstacle to a remake.

“It was April 2011 and I was trying to come up with a big gameshow idea,” says RDF’s Neale Simpson, who grew up adoring the original version of the show and now struggles to keep a lid on his enthusiasm at executive producing the remake for C4. “I came up with one idea I was excited about but then as I was pitching it to my boss I realised it was just a crap knock-off of The Crystal Maze.

“I then tried to find out who had the rights and it turned out Adventure Line Productions, our Banijay sister company, had them and didn’t even realise. It was some legal technicality through ownership of Fort Boyard. I spent the next six years trying to bring it back, but the big thing was saying to broadcasters, ‘If you want to try this show and see if it works again you’ve got to build a 32,000sq ft set. That’s expensive and a big risk.”

Several things fell into place to make it possible. In London, a group almost as enthusiastic about the original show as Simpson were crowd-funded to build their own version of the original set for the general public to pay to play. The Islington-based Crystal Maze LIVE Experience has been a runaway success, booked out for months.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 started bringing together a collection of rebooted formats and twists on its existing shows for a special Stand Up To Cancer charity fundraising night. Simpson, and C4, saw an opportunity for a one-off and comedian Stephen Merchant agreed to host. So far, so simple. And then…

“It was hell,” Simpson recalls. “The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience was sold out six months in advance, bar one down day in October on a Thursday. They’d sold tickets to 23.00 the night before, Thursday was clear, then at 12.30 on the Friday it opened again to the public. We had to get in at 23.00, rig the cabling and cameras overnight and park a mobile gallery truck in the street. We rehearsed in the morning and had to film the whole thing in a day. Then, at 23.00 that night, we had to derig everything and have it ready to hand back to the public on the Friday. I’m there pushing a Henry Hoover around at three in the morning. I didn’t sleep for 36 hours.

“We finished the show on Thursday, it aired on Sunday. We had a crazy edit period. We delivered it 12 hours before it went on air. Then I woke up to the overnights and 4.5 million people had watched it. I sat in a café crying. Tom Beck, the commissioner at Channel 4, phoned up straight away and said, ‘Obviously we’re doing more then.’”

A vast space at Bristol’s Bottle Yard Studios has been commandeered and turned into a new maze, with up to 30 new games designed for each season of the show by a team led by producer Anna Kid. “She’s a nutter,” Simpson says. “Anna loves the show, she came in for a job interview here with a dossier on The Crystal Maze and bossed us in a way where I don’t think we were allowed not to hire her. She’s brought in a team of extraordinary people who come up with 100 concepts for every series and we have to whittle them down to things we can feasibly do.”

Then, in June this year, a new challenge. US kids’ net Nickelodeon picked up the rights to remake the show in the States as part of a push into unscripted and formats under head of unscripted Rob Bagshaw, which you can read more about in Schedule Watch. The 10-parter, which RDF is working on in Bristol with Bunim/Murray, is not only the first time the show has travelled outside the UK, but the first time it has been turned into a kids’ show, although it has always skewed far younger than its primetime slot on C4 usually does.

The show’s vast set was rebuilt in Bristol and is also used for the US series

The first big change has been the make-up of the teams, which are now family units of five, comprising parents and kids. The C4 show involves groups of friends but originally featured teams of complete strangers brought together on the day.

“The decision we made when we first brought the show back was that it’s stronger when the team is six people who know each other,” Simpson says. “What’s wonderful when you turn that into parents playing with their kids is the parents always want the kids to do well and cheer them on no matter what, whereas the children are embarrassed, disgusted and appalled by their parents not performing well and start berating them and blaming them.

“As we’ve filmed 45 episodes in the UK we’ve tried and tested a lot of games and we’re able to cherry-pick the ones we think will best suit children and adults being able to play. The biggest difference is allowing the kids a bit more time.”

The second main issue with rebooting The Crystal Maze, other than building the set, is who you get to host it. The original C4 show was all about Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Richard O’Brien, who made the Maze Master role his own and was the physical embodiment of the show. The series was, with the best will in the world, never the same in seasons five and six with Ed Tudor-Pole in the role, although O’Brien’s exit at the end of season four on a Harley Davidson was quite a moment.

Comedian and actor Richard Ayoade has made a decent fist of reprising the role for the adult C4 version, but finding the right person to guide families, including young children, through the experience was always going to be tough. Nickelodeon has gone for comic Adam Conover, famed for his work on College Humour and TV series Adam Ruins Everything.

“You’re a Maze Master, you’re not a gameshow host, it’s a mad and eccentric role,” says Simpson. “Adam’s take has been like Willy Wonka in his chocolate factory – it’s his maze, he’s created all the games and he’s thrilled somebody has come to play with him for the day. Like Willy Wonka, there’s also a mischievous side to it, a bit of an edge – sometimes the kids lose, sometimes they get locked in.

“The notes we were flagging to Nick early on was you can’t have a host on autocue. It has to be somebody who has funny bones, a sharp mind and will react to what unfolds in front of them. There are lots of gags we can script but the best way to attack the show is to exploit the story of the team and play off the characters and their successes and failures as they go.”

For Gil Goldschein, chairman and CEO of Bunim/Murray, Nick commissioning the show, and pushing into unscripted in general, at a time when family-skewing formats like The Masked Singer are big business, vindicates the move into younger demographics his company made several years ago.

“I started a kids and family division here a few years ago and we have been developing specifically for kids and family,” he says. “Quite honestly I feel like it was there before the market was there; we got pilots away but nothing to series. Now, finally, the market is leaning into that – digital platforms, kids and family networks, and mainstream broadcast as well.

“It was always an underserved audience. Unscripted has been growing tremendously in the US and it was surprising that nobody was producing and developing unscripted for kids. I’m happy that finally the market has caught up. We’ve got several projects across platforms we’re developing and happy to be able to take an iconic series like Crystal Maze and adapt it for the US.

“I hope it can turn in other directions. The first you will see are some of the gameshows and music formatted shows but there’s other opportunities in the space. We’re developing and it’s an area you will see grow over the next few years.”


From C21 Media:

SCHEDULE WATCH ALERT: US childen’s network Nickelodeon is looking to expand its unscripted formats slate. Clive Whittingham reports.

Think of Nickelodeon and you’re probably most likely to associate it with animated hits such as SpongeBob SquarePants, which is now in its 20th year. Where does the time go?

But in January, the network hired Rob Bagshaw as head of unscripted and he is now involved in searching for formats designed to broaden the network’s appeal into co-viewing.

Bagshaw’s arrival followed that of Brian Robbins, the co-founder of AwesomenessTV and former president of Viacom-owned Paramount Players, as president of the channel. He replaced Cyma Zarghami, who left in June last year.

Bagshaw helped create shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race and Paradise Hotel and joined Nick having most recently served as exec producer on YouTube series If I Could Tell You Just One Thing. He was previously senior VP and head of Bunim/Murray Productions’ New York unit and worked at BBC Worldwide Productions (now BBC Studios) and UK prodco Mentorn Media.

He has arrived to bolster the unscripted and formats slate, which isn’t a complete departure for a channel that has housed the Double Dare format in the US on and off since 1986, but is a change of tack from recent years.

“Nick has a history of unscripted, but of course the bedrock of the channel is animation and scripted,” says Bagshaw. “In the last few years the network hasn’t had a lot of unscripted and the new president, Brian Robbins, picked up on this. Our young audience are watching unscripted hits on other networks, streamers and platforms like YouTube. We want to give them these sorts of shows ourselves: original content through the Nick lens.”

Nickelodeon ordered the first US remake of The Crystal Maze

Bagshaw’s arrival and challenge comes at a time when family-skewing formats are all the rage. He points to shows like America’s Got Talent, Dancing With The Stars, America Ninja Warrior, Ellen’s Game of Games, The Voice and Masked Singer as examples of mainstream shows that encourage co-viewing.

“They’re all family shows. That wasn’t traditionally trendy but now they’re back,” Bagshaw says. “I’m looking at the Nick catalogue, formats being pitched to me, original ideas and existing formats from other countries and networks. We’re a kids’ network but we’re looking to broaden the demo into co-viewing, which means parents and kids watch together but also adults watch the shows as well.”

The first eye-catching commission in that vein was the first US remake of classic UK format The Crystal Maze, which aired for six hugely popular seasons in primetime on Channel 4 in the 1990s and was recently rebooted by the network after a one-off charity show drew in excess of four million viewers.

Nick has bought 10-episodes initially, produced by Bunim/Murray and the show’s UK producer, RDF Television, and filmed at its UK studio in Bristol. Nick has tweaked the format slightly, so the teams are made up of family members and a mixture of adults and kids.

“Co-viewing shows are tricky. You don’t want to dilute the power of the entertainment or story for the younger age group and dumb things down. But kids are our core audience, so it has to work for them first and then bring everybody else in,” Bagshaw says. “We’re looking for new shows – and the Crystal Maze is a new show for America – that have family appeal. We’re looking for big, physical gameshows as well.

“A lot of ideas I’ve been pitched were adult versus child or family versus family. The great thing about Crystal Maze is it’s family versus the show, family versus the house. They play together and succeed or fail as a family, not in conflict with another human. That’s a good message.”

Reality competition format America’s Most Musical Family debuts this autumn

Christmas-themed competition show Top Elf has also been greenlit and hidden-camera comedy prank show The Substitute, where celebrities are disguised and sent into classrooms as supply teachers, has been taken to series after a successful pilot on April Fool’s Day. Where exactly to schedule these original shows is, of course, different for a kids’ network compared with a mainstream broadcaster.

“Primetime for kids is a different thing,” Bagshaw says. “We talk about ideas first, whether it’s a good idea for our audience and if we’re all signed up to do it. The creative leaders, marketing, outreach, finance – when we sign up for a new show everybody has to be on board with it. When we did The Substitute we aired it at 14.00, 16.00 and 20.00.

“We bought Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? and tweaked the format to put kids at the centre of the action. In all our new shows the kids drive the narrative and are in charge of their own fate. We aired that stripped across a week and then it went to weeklies.” Nickelodeon’s version launched on Monday June 10.

Another newcomer is reality competition format America’s Most Musical Family, which launches this autumn in a run of 12 episodes plus a 30’ special. It will air weekly on an evening the channel is trying to build into an unscripted rendez-vous, says Bagshaw.

Nick tweaked the Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? format in favour of kids

The series sees 30 American families compete on stage to win a US$250,000 prize and a recording contract with Republic Records. It is produced by Industrial Media and exec-produced by Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman (Undercover Boss, So You Think You Can Dance), Claire Kosloff and Jeff Boggs (Nashville Star, Who Will Rock You?) along with Grammy-winner Ciara and Republic Records. Bagshaw and VP of unscripted Paul Medford are exec producing for Nickelodeon.

Bagshaw is clear about the formats he wants, and doesn’t want, to be pitched. He advises producers to “put themselves in the shoes of the audience and think about ideas through the lens of a young audience.”

“I’m not interested in dumbed-down shows or derivative versions of what our audience is watching elsewhere. The tone is important,” he says. “Our kids love comedy and music so they are priorities for us, and if a new idea has elements of those, then great. We’re looking in the pet space – they’re an important member of the family to kids – and we’re looking at cooking because they love that.

“Sometimes I feel producers can come in with a very serious idea that either skews too junior or is too earnest. We are doing some serious content. There is a history of reflecting cultural issues and world events because our audience wants to be part of that conversation and they pick up on things that grown-ups are talking about, so we don’t want to shy away from that. The danger is it becomes too preachy. We are still a cool-kid network – a Nick kid is a cool kid. We’re not like some of the other kids’ networks and we’re also not PBS.”

So, yes to teachable moments within entertainment but, Bagshaw advises, Nickelodeon doesn’t want to be an education service.

“Kids don’t want to watch that particularly when they’re out of school. We still want to have a good time and we are a trusted brand and home for families looking to get content for their kids. Trusted can sometimes mean safe and safe can sometimes mean soft, and nobody wants soft television,” he says.


From C21 Media:

Nickelodeon makes family formats push

Viacom-owed US children’s network Nickelodeon is looking to increase the number of co-viewing family formats in its schedule following its acquisition of The Crystal Maze and is seeking pitches.

The broadcaster picked up [1] classic UK gameshow format The Crystal Maze earlier this year and is currently working on a 10×60’ version with teams made up of families, produced by US-based Bunim Murray and the show’s UK producer, RDF Television.

The show is one of the first projects from former BBC exec Rob Bagshaw, who joined Nick [2] at the turn of the year as executive VP of unscripted, reporting to the network’s new president, Brian Robbins, who arrived [3] at the end of 2018.

Speaking to C21 at Bottle Yard Studios in the UK city of Bristol, where both the recent Channel 4 reboot of the show and the Nick version are filmed, Bagshaw said the commission was part of a concerted push into unscripted formats for the channel as it looks to broaden its core kids audience into co-viewing.

“Nick has a history of unscripted but the bedrock of the channel is animation and scripted. It hasn’t had a lot of unscripted for the past few years but our young audience watches a lot of unscripted hits on other networks, platforms, streamers and YouTube,” Bagshaw said.

“When you look at the big formats in the US – America’s Got Talent, Ninja Warrior, Dancing With The Stars, Ellen’s Game of Games, The Voice, Masked Singer – all of these are family shows, which traditionally weren’t trendy but have now come back.

“We’re a kids’ network but we’re looking to broaden our demo into co-vewing, which for me means parents and kids can watch together and adults can enjoy the shows as well. That’s a tricky one – you don’t want to dumb anything down but kids are our core audience so it’s got to work for them first and then you bring everybody else in.”

Bagshaw said he is looking through the Nick catalogue, original ideas pitched to him, existing formats from other countries and even shows from other US networks that he can adapt to build out a formats slate.

The Crystal Maze was attractive, he said, because the contestants play together as a team against the game, rather than against other humans, which made it a perfect show for a kids’ network.

“A lot of the new ideas I’ve been pitched have been adult versus child, or family versus family, and the great thing about The Crystal Maze is it’s the family versus the house. They succeed and fail together as a family, and it’s not a conflict with another human which is a good message,” he said.

Asked for other tips for format producers or rights holders looking to pitch to Nick, he added: “Putting yourself in the shoes of the audience is really important. We’re adults deciding what we think kids watch. Really think about it through the lens of the young audience.

“The tone is important. Our kids love comedy and music and those are priorities for us, so if a new idea has elements of either, that’s great. We’re looking in the pet space – it’s a member of your family that is important to kids – and we’re looking at cooking because they love that.

“Sometimes I feel producers can come in with a serious idea that either skews too junior or skews too earnest. We are doing some serious content. There has been a history of reflecting cultural issues on the channel and we don’t want to shy away from that, but the danger is it becomes too preachy. We’re still a cool-kid network. There are teachable moments within entertainment but we’re not an education service.”


More Nick: Nickelodeon Sets All-Star Line-Up with Pop Culture Superstars Ciara, David Dobrik, Debbie Gibson and Nick Lachey for New Music Competition Series, 'America’s Most Musical Family'!

Originally published: Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 22:29 BST.

Additional sources: IMDb, SugerFries, Google.
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