GRB, Zig Zag forge unscripted co-pro partnership in US, UK

Content and global distribution company GRB Studios and Zig Zag Productions have announced the inking of a co-production agreement which will see the two companies aligning on the shopping and production of selected unscripted projects in the US and UK.

zigzag grb 9Oct2019Under the agreement, Zig Zag and GRB will jointly shop mutually-chosen Zig Zag projects in the United States and mutually-chosen GRB projects in the UK. Any shows greenlit will be co-produced by the companies.

The two companies say one of the keys to their partnership is that they are quite similar in their approach to the international television business. They say that they have both earned “solid”, decades-long reputations in their home markets with a global view on production and distribution, and have created shows with universal appeal that have sold in many territories around the world.]

“GRB Studios is thrilled to partner with Zig Zag Productions, a consummate independent powerhouse company, very united with GRB’s goals,” said GRB’s new SVP of international, Sarah Coursey. “Our aim is to co-produce a number of compelling unscripted projects together that will appeal to a global audience, harnessing the best of both companies’ creative and business strengths.”

“We’re excited to be forming this strategic alliance to exploit mutually selected Zig Zag and GRB projects and formats for the US and UK markets,” added Zig Zag Productions managing director Matt Graff. “Creating an Anglo-American partnership between two strong independent players with proven excellence in creativity and production is an exciting prospect.”

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GRB Studios & Zig Zag Enter Co-Pro Pact

GRB Studios and Zig Zag Productions have signed a co-production agreement for a slate of unscripted projects in the U.S. and U.K.

Under the partnership, Zig Zag and GRB will jointly shop mutually chosen Zig Zag projects in the U.S. and mutually chosen GRB projects in the U.K. Any shows greenlit will be co-produced by the companies.

GRB Studios’ new senior VP of international, Sarah Coursey, said: “GRB Studios is thrilled to partner with Zig Zag Productions, a consummate independent powerhouse company, very united with GRB’s goals. Our aim is to co-produce a number of compelling unscripted projects together that will appeal to a global audience, harnessing the best of both companies’ creative and business strengths.”

Matt Graff, managing director of Zig Zag Productions, added: “We’re excited to be forming this strategic alliance to exploit mutually selected Zig Zag and GRB projects and formats for the U.S. and U.K. markets. Creating an Anglo-American partnership between two strong independent players with proven excellence in creativity and production is an exciting prospect.”


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Content Watch MIPCOM 2019: GRB Studios feature

GRB Studios has unveiled its highlights for MIPCOM. In documentary ‘Listen’ (1×90’),we follow ordinary people as they areforced to spend time with someone who has opposing views on an important topic. Will they be able to learn from each other? ‘The New Normal’ (1×90’) follows 5 Parkland High School students dealing with the aftermath of a mass shooting in which 17 of their classmates were murdered. ‘Highland: Thailand’s Marijuana Awakening’ (3×30’) is set in Thailand where, far from the tourists and the tropical beaches, there is a growing community of Thai people fighting a battle to legalize marijuana. Each episode of docu-series ‘Cinderella Bride’ (6×30’) follows wedding planner Sheri Steffans as she and her team give deserving couples their dream wedding. And in ‘On The Case’ (194×60’),we explore intriguing murder mysteries through in-depth interviews with witnesses and suspects and examine the forensic evidence that helped unravel the mystery. 

Produced for Discovery ID. In ‘Untold Stories Of The E.R.’ (150×60’) real stories demonstrate the dramatic nature of medicine practiced under pressure. Currently in its 13th season, the series is produced for TLC. In ‘Man at Arms’ (8×60’), expert craftsmen recreate iconic weapons from video games, movies, and comics. Then, each creation is tested for its strength and realworld functionality. Hosted by Danny Trejo. 

And ‘Close Up With the Hollywood Reporter’ (42×60’) is a roundtable interview series featuring the hottest A-list stars and directors from the year’s most acclaimed films and television series. ‘Whacked Out Sports’ (100×30’) features hysterical professional and amateur sports mishaps, crashes, and bloopers from all around the world. Second season is now available. And in ‘Showdown of the Unbeatables’ (9×60’), inventors and entrepreneurs pit their unique products and machines against each other in the ultimate head-to-head battle. Produced for National Geographic Channel.

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Discovery visits GRB’s Untold Stories Of The E.R

Discovery visits GRB’s Untold Stories Of The E.R

Discovery in Italy, Spain and Latin America have acquired docuseries Untold Stories Of The E.R, which is produced and sold by GRB Studios.

The show, which has been broadcast in 125 countries, dramatises real-life stories of the emergency room, featuring the actual doctors who lived through the experiences.

It is into its 13th season in the U.S on TLC, with 162 episodes and specials having been produced over 15 years. The deal was struck by GRB’s newly appointed SVP of international Sarah Coursey, who was appointed over the summer.

“Many docudramas don’t even make it to the second season, let alone the 13th, and Untold Stories Of The ER’s success is a testament to the appetite of global audiences for raw, real and unexpected true stories of regular people who find themselves in the most irregular of situations,” Coursey said.


Exert of Deals round-up: Zig Zag develops with DRG; Fugitive strikes Little Delicious deal; All3 bags Hong Kong sales for Television Business International

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GRB Intervenes

GRB Studios chief Gary Benz says reports of the demise of traditional distribution are premature and he has staffed up to make the most of new opportunities. John Hazelton reports.

GRB made its name with shows like TLC’s Untold Stories of the ER

A pioneer in the US unscripted TV business, Gary Benz launched his eponymous LA-based company, originally named GRB Entertainment, more than three decades ago. And from the start he recognised the importance of international distribution – thanks in part to an early fact-finding mission to one of Cannes’ then-booming TV markets.

“I became an international distributor 35 years ago, right out of the gate,” Benz recalls from his office in the LA neighbourhood of Sherman Oaks. “Honestly, it was because I didn’t trust the other distributors out there. The shows we were doing were my babies, and I just thought I should learn that business as well. So I put myself on a plane and went out to Cannes.”

GRB worked its way to the forefront of the business with series such as reality show Intervention (an Emmy winner that has run for 20 seasons on US cablenet A&E), Untold Stories of the ER (for TLC), Next Action Star (NBC), Growing Up Gotti (A&E) and, more recently, Discovery true crime series On the Case.

The company’s international distribution side has amassed a catalogue of more than 3,500 hours of programming – from crime, food and travel shows to automotive, science and wildlife series – that has aired in more than 190 countries.

But even a pioneer has to change with the times, and late last year the firm was rebranded as GRB Studios, with Benz still as CEO but with a newly expanded focus on worldwide growth.

Gary Benz

The rebrand reflects the change – some of it recent, some long term – that Benz has observed in the wider TV industry. Consolidation among studios, networks and other media operators has “put pressure on the whole ecosystem,” Benz notes. “It’s daunting to look at.”

And the last decade’s migration of younger audiences to non-linear platforms has had a bigger impact even than the cable explosion around the turn of the 21st century, Benz argues.

“TV viewing hours may have gone down a bit but the other screens – smartphones and those type of things – make up for it,” he says. “Now it’s a question of how you reach those people and how you pay for the programmes that will go on those platforms. You really have to try different things.”

In the US unscripted business specifically, “the competition has gotten tougher. It doesn’t mean there’s less being bought, there are just a lot more people pitching and coming up with good ideas. There was a time when we did 14 series a year; now we may do three, four or five.”

GRB’s response has been to explore new kinds of programming. Recent projects have included several shows for NBCUniversal’s crafts and lifestyle SVoD service Bluprint, plus Bad Night, a dramatic movie featuring young online ‘influencers’ as well as traditional stars among its cast. The company has also sought to make the most of long-running series like Intervention and Untold Stories of the ER that have the kind of repeatability many unscripted shows lack.

Benz has seen plenty of change in the international distribution business that he led GRB into back in the 1980s. The rise of global VoD services, with their huge appetite for content and correspondingly impressive buying power, has raised fears in some quarters that the role of the traditional territory-by-territory distributor could fade away.

“There’s some worry that it could be disappearing,” Benz concedes, “but I’m not so sure it’s as simple as that.”

Global players might push to buy worldwide rights in one-off deals “but they can’t always do that, for a couple of reasons,” he adds. “One is it’s unaffordable to do that on everything. The other is that sometimes a show’s so good, it’s already spoken for in some countries.”

GRB true crime series On the Case airs on Discovery

For an independent distributor like GRB, “when somebody buys global rights to a programme, they’ll often discount it substantially,” says Benz, “so it can really limit your upside and constrain the type of programme you’re able to make. So there’s a lot that motivates us to try to maintain the flexibility of hanging on to, if not the rest of the world [outside the US], then some big territories, so we can figure out how to maximise the deal.”

With the help of new senior VP of international Sarah Coursey, recruited by GRB after C Scot Cru ended his brief stint as president of international and then overall president to join MGM in April, Benz is trying some new strategies to keep his company vital in the distribution business.

Making US shows that can be localised for international territories – as GRB did in the past with its Discovery show World of Wonder – is one tactic. Another is finding projects in international markets that the company can both distribute worldwide and adapt, either for the US or for other international territories.

Former Inverleigh, Zee TV and Zodiak exec Coursey “just came back from a trip to the UK and is looking at a lot of acquisitions,” says Benz. “We’re acquiring shows from the UK, Australia, Canada and South Africa to distribute around the world.

“We’re also trying to find a show that will work in a foreign country that we can distribute around the world for the producer and then make a US version as well. So it’s not our IP necessarily – we’re doing coproductions with networks and individual production companies to create new formats and new versions of the show.”

Benz and GRB are also finding new regions of the world to explore, such as Latin America – coproducing a Spanish-language show with a Mexican producer that could be re-versioned for the rest of the region is one possibility – and Africa, where a fast-growing population and film and TV tax incentives are among the attractions.

With his 30 years of global distribution experience, Benz noted Africa’s economic growth rate some time ago and began to build up a catalogue of African-American programming – including unscripted series from OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and Tyler Perry sitcom For Better or Worse – that he thought would work on the continent.

The gamble paid off, the unscripted TV veteran reports, “so now that we have such strong ties to the countries of Africa, we’re working with a number of different production companies and networks, looking to take their content to the world and to shoot new programmes in Africa.”


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