Zodiak Americas is rebranding Zodiak USA as Zodiak Los Angeles. Zodiak Americas COO Tony Yates has been appointed CEO of the new entity, which will serve as Zodiak’s west coast non-scripted production base managing a programming slate that includes Secret Millionaire (ABC), Celebrity Wife Swap (ABC) and Killer Karaoke (truTV). He will report to Jonny Slow, CEO of Zodiak Americas. Yates succeeds Natalka Znak who left the company in April. As part of the restructuring, Yates has appointed David Wollock as SVP of Development. Current production at Zodiak Los Angeles will continue to be led by SVP Dave Shikiar and casting by SVP Sunny Agans. All will report to Yates. Zodiak New York will remain as the division’s east coast production base, focusing on character driven docu-series for east coast cable networks, and will continue to be led by Chief Creative Officer Mike Gamson and Chief Operating Officer Sheila Cabano. Both report to Slow.
EXCLUSIVE: ABC has ordered a 13-episode third season of Celebrity Wife Swap, from Zodiak USA. Season 2 of the reality series, an offshoot of Wife Swap, featured switcheroos that included reality TV stars Kate Gosselin and Kendra Wilkinson; 1990s music stars Gerardo Mejia and Sisqo; as well as TV mother-daughter duo Joan and Melissa Rivers swapping lives with Bristol and Willow Palin, daughters of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The season averaged more than 4.1 million total viewers. “The format is timeless,” said Bruce Toms, executive producer for Zodiak USA. “Each celebrity brings their own fun and comedic approach to this classic fish-out-of–water experience.” In the series, two mothers of celebrity families, each with opposing values, trade households, lifestyles and children for a week. Toms executive produces for Zodiak USA with Tony Yates. The Wife Swap franchise has been successful, producing more than 120 episodes combined for the civilian and celebrity versions. The future of the original Wife Swap series on ABC is unclear.
Natalka Znak will leave Zodiak USA at the end of her contract next month. Znak moved to Los Angeles from her native Britain in early 2010 to become EVP of then-RDF USA and was named Chief Creative Officer in March of that year, shortly after Grant Mansfield joined the company as CEO. Last June, Znak was upped to CEO, replacing Mansfield who returned to the UK. Then in July, Zodiak Media consolidated its production businesses in North, Central and South America, including Zodiak USA, into Zodiak Americas and tapped Jonny Slow as Zodiak Americas CEO. “Natalka has been a fantastic producer and leader for us over the past three years,” Slow said. “We’re sorry to see her go, and wish her the best in her future endeavors.” At Zodiak USA, Znak sold around 20 shows, and will continue to work on several projects until her exit. She won’t be replaced. Prior to joining Zodiak, Znak served as Controller of Factual Entertainment for ITV Studios in London. Zodiak USA’s slate include Hardcore Pawn, Wife Swap, Being Human and Killer Karaoke.
Zodiak USA’s Chief Creative Office Natalka Znak has been promoted to CEO. She succeeds Zodiak USA CEO Grant Mansfield who is leaving the company this month to return to his native U.K. after two years at the helm of RDF USA and then Zodiak USA, following Zodiak Media’s June 2010 acquisition of RDF.
In her new position, Znak will oversee Zodiak USA’s production offices in New York and Los Angeles and will manage a programming slate that includes Secret Millionaire (ABC), Celebrity Wife Swap (ABC) and truTV’s two highest rated series, Hardcore Pawn and Lizard Lick Towing. “Natalka is a force of nature and an inspiring creative – she thinks big and isn’t afraid to take a risk,”Zodiak Media CEO David Frank said.
I’ve learned that Zodiak USA CEO Grant Mansfield will leave the company in June to return to his native U.K. Mansfield served as Managing Director and Group Director Factual, Entertainment and Comedy for RDF TV in the U.K. before he was named CEO of RDF USA in January 2010. Nine months later, the company was renamed Zodiak USA following Zodiak Entertainment’s acquisition of RDF Media Group. Word is that Mansfield, who uprooted his family to move to Los Angeles, had been looking to return to London. Search is under way for a new CEO to replace him. Under Mansfield, Zodiak USA launched Celebrity Wife Swap and Secret Millionaire on ABC, both of which he executive produced. Additionally, the company created a franchise with truTV’s flagship series Hardcore Pawn, which has spawned a spinoff, Hardcore Pawn: Fort Bragg. Coming up new reality series Steve-o’s Killer Karaoke on TruTV and second seasons of Being Human on Syfy and Secret Millionaire.
EXCLUSIVE: TruTV has picked up Killer Karaoke, a U.S. version of British game show Sing If You Can. Comedian and Jackass co-star Steve-O will host the new series, which has been given an 8-episode order for a launch in early 2012. Zodiak USA is producing. Described as the Wipeout of singing competitions, Killer Karaoke will feature contestants trying to sing a hit song while being put through extreme, wild and unexpected physical challenges. Examples of distractions used on the original British series, which has celebrities as contestants, have included performing a song from a specially designed erupting volcano and doing a solo while having one’s chest waxed. “Killer Karaoke is a music competition show as only truTV would do it – hilarious, outrageous and wild,” said Marc Juris, EVP and general manager of truTV. There was immediate interest in the format by the U.S. networks after Sing If You Can launched in April on ITV to 5.4 million viewers, ranking as the network’s biggest unscripted series premiere in two years. Killer Karaoke, executive produced by Grant Mansfield, Natalka Znak and Claire O’Donohoe, marks Zodiak’s fourth series on TruTV. The company also produces the network’s Hardcore Pawn, All Worked Up and Lizard Lick Towing. Steve-O (a.k.a. Stephen Glover) is best known for his co-starring role on MTV’s hit series Jackass, the movie franchise it spawned and …
Zodiak USA is hoping that lightning can strike twice, bringing to the U.S. a restaurant reality format that has become a breakout hit on Holland’s RTL4, the same network that launched The Voice. Zodiak will pitch the format, Restaurant Race, to U.S. broadcast networks this week. I hear two of them, ABC and NBC, are on the hunt for a culinary series after striking out with such recent entries as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and America’s Next Great Restaurant, respectively. In the original Dutch version, which will be tweaked for U.S. audiences, Restaurant Race centers on two struggling restaurants that compete against one another. Helped by a mentor, they have 72 hours and $10,000 to reboot their business by themselves. The restaurant that performs the best in the eyes of the critic will pocket a big cash prize for further improvements. The format bears some similarities to the original Australian series The Chopping Block, though not the short-lived NBC version. NBC has been particularly consistent in its efforts to find a restaurant-based reality franchise with the 2003 Mark Burnett/Ben Silverman series The Restaurant, The Chopping Block and, most recently, America’s Next Great Restaurant. The only successful effort in the space on U.S. broadcast TV so far is Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares starring Gordon Ramsay.
EXCLUSIVE: With its celebrity reality juggernaut Dancing With the Stars showing little sign of slowing down, ABC is putting a celebrity spin on another veteran reality series, Wife Swap. ABC has ordered a celebrity edition of Wife Swap, in which celebrities switch lifestyles for a week. Wife Swap producer Zodiak USA is also behind the celebrity offshoot. I hear the order is for six episodes, with the casting currently under way. The network wouldn’t comment on celebrities who may be featured on the series, but Saturday Night Live alumna Victoria Jackson, who recently faced backlash for calling the gay kiss on Glee “sickening,” hinted on her blog last month that she had been approached. Wife Swap, which launched on ABC in 2004, is based on a British format. The original series did a series of celebrity episodes that scored big ratings on Channel 4. A staple on ABC for half a decade, Wife Swap, which hit the 100 episode mark in 2009, has been missing from the network’s lineup since August while continuing to run in off-network syndication on Lifetime. Maybe a celebrity version will reinvigorate the veteran franchise the way Celebrity Apprentice did with Donald Trump’s NBC reality series?
New British game show Sing If You Can, described as the Wipeout of singing competitions, is close to finding a U.S. TV home. Zodiak USA had already been pitching an American version of its format, landing two offers from U.S. networks. Then the series premiered on ITV on Saturday, Britain’s highest-rated TV night, with 5.4 million viewers to rank as the network’s biggest unscripted series premiere in two years. That immediately boosted interest among U.S. broadcasters who have been looking for new game show formats. In the original UK version, hosted by comedian Keith Lemon and Stacey Solomon, two celebrity teams try to keep singing popular songs despite major distractions. What kind of distractions? Performing a song from a specially designed erupting volcano or doing a solo while having one’s chest waxed are two examples. After an audience vote, one of the teams goes to the end round, while one celebrity from the losing team is plunged into a giant water tank. In a twist, the U.S. version that is being pitched is a non-celebrity one.
EXCLUSIVE: Syfy has renewed promising freshman drama series Being Human for a second season. In its January 17 debut, Being Human, an adaptation of the British series, averaged 2 million viewers to become Syfy’s most watched new scripted series winter premiere since Battlestar Galactica in 2005. The series, produced by Zodiak USA and Muse Entertainment, has solidified its status as Syfy’s most successful winter scripted series launch in 6 years with a season-to-date average of 1.8 million viewers. It is also the channel’s most female-skewing series ever, with women comprising 53% of its audience. “Being Human has proven to be a winner for Syfy on all fronts,” said Syfy’s president of original content Mark Stern. “Using the original format as inspiration, showrunners/writers Jeremy Carver and Anna Fricke – along with a superlative team of writers, cast, and production – have created an amazing, compelling series in its own right,” said We can’t wait to watch Aidan, Josh and Sally continue their struggle to be human in the second season!”
Almost 4 months after Paris-based Zodiak Entertainment closed a deal to acquire U.K.’s RDF Media Group, creating the third largest independent TV production company in the world, the combined company has established an American outpost. RDF USA has merged with Zodiak Entertainment US to become Zodiak USA with offices in Los Angeles and New York. Zodiak USA will inherit the entire RDF USA senior management team led by RDF USA CEO Grant Mansfield, who will become CEO of Zodiak USA, and chief creative officer Natalka Znak. Zodiak Entertainment US had a small U.S. office, and nobody from it will transition to the new company. As a result of the merger, Zodiak USA will now have access to formats from companies in over 20 countries. Because Zodiak distributes mainly scripted product while RDF’s focus was on reality programming, Zodiak USA is looking to hire a drama executive to handle the new volume of scripted projects coming through the Zodiak international pipeline.