DICK de Rijk, the recipient of the 2011 FRAPA Gold Medal Award, has spent the last three decades “having crazy ideas” — one of which was a little show called Deal or No Deal. Joanna Stephens talks to the man who started his career as an advertising copywriter and rose to become master of the game show…
Deal or No Deal is arguably the most successful format ever. What do you think has made it so phenomenally successful?
Deal or No Deal has been distributed to more than 150 countries at lightning speed — I believe in just five or six years — which is just incredible. Before we knew it, it was Endemol’s number-one format, leaving even Big Brother behind.
It offered a totally new, nail-biting mechanism and it was the first game show with no questions, no assignments, other than knowing when to stop. Also, because anyone can play along without having to know the capital city of Zimbabwe, millions of people without any education love the show. Maybe that explains its massive global success — it fascinates nerds as well as illiterate people. Who knows!
You are now working with ProSiebenSat.1’s Red Arrow Entertainment Group to create formats for the international market, the first of which, You Deserve It, has been one of 2011’s break-out formats…
Yes, I’m pretty happy with You Deserve It. Without it having any track record anywhere in the world, we pitched it to the big four in the US — ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS — and it was immediately embraced by ABC. It will air, with Chris Harrisson [The Bachelor] hosting it, as from Thanksgiving this November.
Following the promo, which we edited from the ABC pilot, You Deserve It has been picked up by some 20 countries. And new territories keep coming in…
To sell a format in the US from paper is pretty special. Any explanation?
Well, not just from paper — we prepared some spectacular clips and a game engine to make sure we would have an impressive and effective pitch. And why did ABC pick it up? If I could answer that, I’d only make hits and unfortunately I don’t.
But I guess networks acknowledge that You Deserve It might create more empathy from viewers… It delivers a beautiful story, heart-stopping game play, emotional reality and honesty. Contestants play for someone else. Someone really special to them. It’s the ultimate hybrid and it fits perfectly into our current time.
What was your reaction to being awarded the FRAPA Gold Medal?
Talking about your own awards is like corporate advertising. And corporate advertising is like peeing down your trousers — it smells, but it gives you a nice warm feeling. But the problem with most awards is that nobody knows who really deserves them. The set designer? The host? The director?
That’s what I love about the FRAPA Award. And that’s why this one has a prominent place in my office. The FRAPA Gold Medal is all about the making of formats. And that’s what my work is all about. So personally, I can’t think of a more relevant proof of appreciation for my work.
If you could give one piece of advice to up-and-coming ‘formateers’, what would it be?
Although I don’t think creative minds depend on economic or political situations, you always have to consider your environment as a source of inspiration. Downfall was a great idea, but smashing valuable prizes — even if replicas — from a 10-story building was not appreciated by the viewers. It was out of place in a time of economic crisis.
So I advise young formateers to ‘think unlimited’, to go against the odds, to ignore trends… When I pitched Deal or No Deal to the big four in the US in 2004, everybody said game shows were out in the US. And they had been, for years. But Deal brought the game show back on primetime in the US.
A genre is cold until a good format makes it hot again. There is no truth. The Maya culture created incredible art during times of peace. The Romans did the same during times of war. So sing your own song! But one thing: look around you and make sure your concept fits in with our present environment.