NEW FRAPA izzet pintomember Izzet Pinto doesn’t so much like controversy as rush, arms wide open, to embrace it.
The founder and CEO of the Turkish format shop Global Agency has launched a string of buzz-generating formats on to the world in recent years, including a show he dubs as “the most controversial format of all time”.
It’s called Choosing My Religion and it all starts with 10 atheists being locked in a house with a priest, a rabbi, an imam and a Buddhist monk. Ten weeks later, the contestants emerge, blinking in the cold light of the secular world, and are given a choice: remain an unbeliever or convert to a world religion.
“It’s a local paper format,” Pinto explains, “and I think it’s a brave and unique concept. But with 99% of the Turkish population being Muslim, no broadcaster in Turkey would be able to air it. It would cause offense and create problems, and be scary and dangerous for the contestants.”
But Choosing My Religion, which was created by Seyhan Soylu, former programming director at Turkey’s Kanal T, has “huge potential” in territories with a more robust attitude to faith, Pinto believes. It has already been optioned by a Brazilian production company for the whole of Latam, he says, adding tantalisingly that he is also close to a deal “with a powerful European player, which would see the show take off around the world”.
Another contentious Seyhan Soylu offering — Pinto calls it “the second most controversial format in television” — is Rent A Mama, in which six couples compete to win a free surrogacy service. The show, which has been optioned in Ukraine where surrogacy is evidently a popular procedure, raised eyebrows when it launched at MIPTV in 2010. Pinto, adhering to the principle that all publicity is good, was delighted. “It helped to brand us,” he says. “That was when people began to say, ‘If it’s a crazy format, it must be Global Agency…’.”
Pinto is heading for MIPCOM with several more audacious formats in his bag, including a surreal take on re-marriage called My Ex Is My Witness! and a pilot of The Big Challenge, in which 12 colourful contestants are packed off to an exotic destination with nothing but $100 with which to start a new life.
Pinto devised the latter format himself — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he adapted an episode of his own life into a reality TV show. He elaborates: “When I was 19, I moved to Bangkok, lost all my money and ended up with just $100 in my pocket. So I bought some t-shirts and sold them on the streets. I made a bit of cash, so I hired some guys to sell t-shirts directly to stores and, after a year, I had six shops of my own and a successful clothing brand…”
It comes as no surprise to learn that Pinto was voted Turkey’s Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2008 — or that he has no time for people who attempt to profit on the back of the hard work and creativity of others. “I’m so against this trend for copycat formats,” he says. “It’s one of the main reasons I joined FRAPA. It should be unacceptable for people to steal the main structure of your format, add a couple of new details and get away with broadcasting it. We must persuade the networks to start ignoring derivative shows and investing in original ideas. My hope is that FRAPA will become stronger and more active in this vitally important area.”