So, you want to create a game show?
A guide for the budding quiz devisor by games consultant David J. Bodycombe.
This is a TvFormats guide to game shows, intended to give advice to potential devisors who are interested in developing their ideas in this genre. The author, David J. Bodycombe, is a freelance consultant working in the UK, with experience in television, radio, books, magazines, newspapers, board games and the Internet (see credits).

Date That (Action Time)


– Watch television!

Before you anything, make sure you watch lots of game shows. Nothing will scupper your plans quicker than if, after weeks of development, you later discover that a nearly identical idea has already been on air for the past three years. This kind of situation has happened more than once before.

– What's your genre?

Next, you’ll need to decide what kind of genre you’d like to develop a show for. The genres of game shows have been fairly static over the years, and most programmes fall under one of these major headings:

ACTION/ADVENTURE – Typical elements of an action/adventure show include custom-made sports games, scavenger hunts, fantasy locations and role-play. Often played as a series of timed games, and personal betterment is often an underlying theme.

BOARD GAME CONVERSATION – Any sort of programme that has been based on a traditional or proprietary board game. In the latter case, this sort of show is only possible by paying a license fee to the manufacturer of the game.

Children's – Any form of programme specifically designed for children (approx. 16 years and under). Usually these programmes are commissioned from a separate department than that of adult and family light entertainment programmes.

Comedy panel game – Specific type of quiz or game involving a number of celebrity guests where a certain proportion of the material is pre-scripted and performed by the host or, in some cases, by the guests themselves.

Dating show – Shows concerning any aspect of personal relationships. Usually involves playing matchmaker to young contestants, although some recent shows have concerned themselves with how relationships fail.

Educational – Type of factual programming where a game element has been employed as a way of making the information fun to learn.

Family game show – Wide-ranging term used to describe mainstream primetime shows, usually presented by well-known comedians, where general knowledge is not a primary requirement. Often involves elements such as playing physical games, tactics and luck.

Lifestyle – Relatively new stream of programme taking a popular hobby or home interest, such as DIY or cookery, and basing an essentially light-hearted competition around it. Also includes shows where estimating prices is the key ability.

Panel game – Game played by a group of invited celebrities. Most of the humour comes from off-the-cuff remarks and banter, as opposed to the more scripted comedy panel games.

Puzzle – Show where lateral thinking, numerical ability and wordplay are important, but little or no general knowledge is required.

Reality – Where a number of individuals are challenged to work together as a team, usually over a long period of time.
Quiz, general knowledge – Game where answering a wide variety of questions is the key entertainment, although tactics and minor physical elements may also be present.

Quiz, themed – Show where contestants answer questions about a central theme. Often the rounds and games are also tied into this theme. Includes some themed panel games.

Sports – Programmes where a recognised sport is played, or the primary theme of the programme involves sport in some other way.

Stunt/dare show – Programmes where people are challenged to do extraordinary feats, usually involving expensive large-scale games or danger. Sometimes includes elements of practical jokes.

Technological – Specific genre where competitors construct machinery under competition conditions.

Variety – Programmes which either involve the search for new talent, or performances of established variety acts as a central element of the programme.

C – You, the critic

Once you know what kind of show(s) you’re looking to devise, research into that genre more deeply. In particular, look at existing shows and critique them, asking questions such as:

•What makes them tick?
•Is the pace fast or slow?
•At what time of day are these programmes usually shown?
•What kind of audience is it designed to appeal to?
•Is it a mass audience or a particular niche? And what age group?
•How does the scoring work?
•Is it played for prizes or just for fun?
•What type of host is used?

Pop Idol (FremantleMedia)

– Any idea?

Next, you need to think of a basic idea around which your whole show will revolve. In essence, your idea needs to be two or three sentences that will sell the idea. If you can’t encapsulate the idea succinctly, the chances are your idea is already too complicated.

Thinking of an original idea is very difficult to do. Quiz and game shows have been popular since the 1950s and in those 40-50 years many ideas have already come and gone. In our view, the two basic approaches are:

Come up with something completely new. It can happen from time to time that a completely new idea occurs. One recent example was Channel 4’s Fluke, which was almost an anti-game show in that the outcome of the whole programme purely depended on luck.

Do an old style show but in a modern way. What could be more boring than yet another multiple-choice quiz? But Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? has shown that you can take a simple idea and re-interpret it to give it some new dynamics. Some people argue that its not so much what the game show actually is, but whether it’s executed well.

Perfect Match (RDF)

– Some pointers

When thinking up your idea, try to bear in mind some basic principles:
Has anything similar been done before? If so, has it been at least several years since anything of a similar variety was broadcast?

Why would anyone watch your show? What makes it entertaining? Quite often, people assume that their job or hobby would make a good game show without considering that not everyone else might find their occupation or pastime interesting.

Is there a strong theme that will "brand" the show? In particular, is there a distinctive visual characteristic that will make the programme instantly recognisable?

Do you have a TV channel and time slot in mind?

Be realistic about costs. It’s possible to achieve virtually anything in the world of television, but everything has its price. Can you honestly say that your idea will be able to be made on the kind of budgets used by similar shows in the marketplace at the target channel and timeslot?

Is the idea international? A sports quiz about the game of shinty might be great for Ireland, but its potential will be severely limited in the global marketplace.


Time Team (Action Time)

– Avoid the crowds

A number of themes are well worn, and you might want to steer clear of these unless you are convinced that you have a completely new angle. At the current time, some of the most often-used programme ideas seem to be:

• Straightforward quiz shows involving questions, categories and amounts of money.
• Quiz shows that make use of clocks and collecting time.
• Quizzes or makeovers based on DIY, cookery or gardening.
• Children’s shows that involve large inflatable obstacles and gunge.
• Word parlour games.

Try looking for programme ideas that no one else seems to doing at the moment. Before too long, you may well find that the situation reverses to your benefit.


– Build it up then knock it down

Once you’ve structured your idea into a prototype format, you now need to refine the idea. From this point onwards, developing a game show is actually quite a destructive process. This is because you now need to look through the detail of your ideas and look for faults. Then, if possible, try to fix them.

Faking it (DRF)

Problems, problems

Here is a list of basic issues that need to be considered at this stage:

Cost effectiveness:
From a television company’s point of view, one of the main advantages of game shows over any other television programme is that they can be recorded back-to-back – that is, several shows are recorded in one day but are broadcast as a daily or weekly series. The longer your programme takes to film, the more expensive and complicated the production process gets and therefore it will appear less attractive to the marketplace.

There is a whole science to working out the technical practicalities of a programme, but there are some common-sense things you can check straight away. For example:

If the show is studio-based, is it going to fit in a studio? Television studios are often a lot smaller than they appear to viewers, because cameras use wide-angle lenses that make the studio sets appear larger than they really are.

Does the set involve large mechanical constructions? Despite their appearances, studio sets are designed to be taken apart and re-assembled in hours. This is because studio time is so precious and expensive that its often more cost effective to re-build the set for each time you need it rather than leave the set sitting in the studio unused. For example, building an indoor rollercoaster within the studio would mean that the programme would probably have to be made within a large film studio – which can be hired out at weeks at a time – rather than in a traditional TV studio.

Specialists are always consulted to ensure that the programme can be executed in a safe manner. However, even everyday obstacles such as ramps and stairs can be extremely hazardous. Other shows make a virtue of the aspect of danger. In these types of programmes it is vital that the audience can watch the programme safe in the knowledge that no one will come to any harm, particularly if it is for a family audience.

Live broadcasts:
If the show relies on a live broadcast, bear in mind factors such as the time of year. This can effect the lighting and weather conditions. There is not much point hoping to get a live action-adventure show commissioned for evenings during Autumn if that means its going to be pitch black outside – the audience needs to see what’s going on.

Game logic:
If your programme is a quiz with a strong game element, check that the game really does work. If possible, get some of your friends to play an improvised mock-up of the game. Take note of how long it takes them to understand the rules. Does the strategy of the game reward contestants that take risks and play offensively rather than defensive, sandbagging play? A programme might be fun to play, but is it going to be interesting to the viewers? In particular, is there a "play-along" factor – that is, can the viewers try to answer the questions, games or puzzles before the contestants do?

Can the viewers see what’s going on? Sets for all programmes are designed so that it is easy for cameras to capture the action. Sets come in many different forms, such as those used by Fifteen-to-One, Wheel of Fortune, Blind Date and Celebrity Squares. One thing to bear in mind is that most studios are not actually very high and so aerial shots are quite difficult to achieve.

Entertainment integrity:
Does the format that you’ve now got actually fulfil the aim you started out with? It’s often tempting to adjust your idea in order to solve some of the other problems that have occurred during the development process. However, a consequence of this is that your format might be very logical, cost-effective and technically feasible, but the original entertainment factor might have been lost.

The difficulty with the refining stage is that it’s difficult to know what the pitfalls are. This is where agencies such as us can help. However, before you show your idea to anyone, it's advisable to secure your copyright on the format.

Boot Camp (Fox)

Watching and selling the format

– Writing up your format

So, what does a format look like? Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but a very detailed description would give most of the information necessary to make the programme from scratch. There is no set length, but generally they do not extend much beyond 10 pages of A4 paper otherwise they appear intimidating to read. It may contain some or all of the following headings:

• Programme title
• Target audience
• Suggested time-slot
• Length (mins)
• Brief outline (2-3 sentences)
• Outline running order
• Round structure (if applicable)
• Detailed synopsis
• Sample games/questions
• Illustrations
• Suggested presenters
• Outline budget
• Set design
• Merchandising opportunities

Formats have been known to be accepted on a scrappy piece of typewriter paper, and even during a lunch conversation. However, conventionally it is preferred if the format is neatly printed by a word processor.

Robot Wars (Mentorn)

The Fear Factor (NBC)

– Approaching the market place

i) – Independent production companies
If you want to get a game show commissioned, there are four main ways of doing it:i) – Independent production companies
These are private companies that make programmes for broadcasters. They live or die according to their success at winning commissions. Some broadcasters, such as the UK’s Channel 4 and Channel 5, buy 100% of their programmes from independent production companies (or "indies"). To market your idea to an indie, you need to write to the head of light entertainment – whose details can be found in publications – and enclose your format(s).

Most indies are generally very good at reading formats and supplying feedback. Sometimes they will ask you to sign a legal form that indemnifies them from any court action regarding the copying of your ideas. Companies do this because they often receive a number of formats that are nearly identical.

ii) – Directly approaching a broadcaster
Public service broadcasters, such as the BBC, welcome new ideas but are naturally reluctant to pay very much for them.
Some commercially broadcasters will read ideas and can grant a provisional commission for good formats. However, you will still need to find an independent company to make the programme itself, although that’s not too difficult if you already have a commission.

iii) – Use an agent
An agent will basically use the same two approaches listed above. The advantage is that agents will normally have more experience in negotiating contracts. Naturally, they will charge you a fee or a percentage of your income form the format for their services.

iv) – Format consultancies
Consultants are normally most interested in supporting of new talent, and will make a point of providing feedback on ideas and formats sent to them. They often provide additional services that can increase the chance of the format being sold. This might include commissioning professional illustrations, calculating a programme budget, or designing a prototype set.
Like agents, they will charge service fees and/or a percentage of income received for their services.

Other areas of the tvformats.com site give further advice about how to protect your ideas and sell the format.
Good luck!



Format Production

A model for format consultancy

A format sale is a product sale. The product in this instance is a recipe for re-producing a successful television programme, in another territory, as a local programme.

The recipe comes with all the necessary ingredients and is offered as a product, along with a consultant, who can be thought of as an expert chef.

In an ideal world, a format sales company would offer the product with the unique addition of a master chef who is the Consultancy Manager who oversees the implementation and co-ordination of the necessary production 'know how' and resources. The Consultancy Manager assigned to the format sale would have an extensive range of international format experience and is available to put the recipe and ingredients together in a form where they can be delivered to maximum effect.

Smart Test (FremantleMedia)

mIn order that the product delivery can take place, the first task of the Consultancy Manager is to select the appropriate resources with the Programme Producers (the Consultants). When it is clear what the key elements are, s/he has to consider how, to whom and when they are to be delivered.

The consultancy for every sale should be tailor-made and managed on an individual basis taking into account such parameters such as: genre of programme, specific cultural requirements, language, budget, length of series, timetable etc. The Consultant has to operate on a budget with specific tasks to be implemented over a period of time. It is these tasks that require expert and experienced management in order to give maximum value to the sale.

Strip Search (Distraction Formats)

The second task of the Consultancy Manager is to look at how best to structure the consultancy and to whom by first establishing contacts with key production personnel in the appropriate territory. It is at this stage that relationship and confidence building is so important. (In territories where English is not the first language an interpreter should be appointed by the consultants.) The Managing Consultant has to create a balance between listening to the questions and concerns of both the seller and the buyer (the two sets of producers). It is essential to talk through certain aspects of the production and to send through only essential written, audio and visual resources prior to the first production meeting. The complete bible should form the basis of the first meeting and full production meeting.

Once this stage of structuring is complete, and all parties are agreed, the third task is to plan in detail everything that has to take place. This is the moment to look at the timetable and particularly the timetable of consultancy visits both pre-production and production, bearing in mind the key times when consultancy can be most effective and have maximum impact.

Only when a production is hitting the expected target ratings can a format be considered to be a successful sale. Then and only then is the sale complete.

The Fame Game (RTE International)

Liar (FremantleMedia)

What is format
There are two main stages in the development of a format: a paper format and a TV programme format.

"Paper format"
– the detailed written document that presents the initial concept for a TV programme format

TV programme format
– the recipe and ingredients that gives the knowledge to reproduce an existing TV programme in another country

Other useful definitions:

Format devisor
– a term used as a catch-all for the writers, authors and creators that have an initial idea and develop it sufficiently to create what we define as a "paper format".

"Paper format" agent
– An agent who represents a devisor and creates deals with a buyer.

Format distributor
– A distributors who specialises in selling and delivering format experience and resources.

Working definitions for formats

A definitive description of what a format is doesn't currently exist. However, it is largely understood that there are two key formatting stages in the development of an idea:

A "paper format" is the detailed written document that presents the initial concept for a television programme format.
A television programme format is the entire body of knowledge that has been gathered through the production process, which enables a television company in a particular territory to reproduce the success of a programme that was originally made elsewhere in the world.

(i) Paper formats
John Gough of Distraction Formats expands on the definition of a "paper format":
Paper formats are the documents that bring content to concept. They are written as the first step in the production process for programmes of most television genres. They are written as a description of a programme's basic idea, its content, its layout and its style. These documents are initially a viability study of the idea and often a selling tool.

They contain the first set of ingredients on which the final format recipe is based. They are the catalysts around which all the resources that go into producing a television programme first start to gather. They develop as the production process moves forward taking into account the influences of the various production requirements such as casting, set, budget etc. evolving into the format bible and pilot programme. If the paper format is sound, the television production will be sound.

(ii) TV programme formats
Michel Rodrigue, CEO of format specialist Distraction Formats offers this definition of a TV programme format:

A TV programme format is a recipe which allows television concepts and ideas to travel without being stopped by either geographical or linguistic boundaries. To achieve this, the recipe comes with a whole range of ingredients making it possible for producers throughout the world to locally produce a television programme based on a foreign format, and to present it as a local television show perfectly adapted to their respective countries and cultures.

What a "paper format" contains
So, what does a "paper format" look like? There are no hard-and-fast rules, but there are two versions that are commonly used...

A long-form "paper format" is a very detailed description that would give you most of the information required to produce a programme. There is no set length, but generally they do not extend much beyond 10 pages of A4 paper otherwise they appear intimidating to read. It may contain some or all of the following headings:
• Programme title
• Target audience
• Suggested time-slot
• Length (mins)
• Brief outline (2-3 sentences)
• Outline running order
• Round structure (if applicable)
• Detailed synopsis
• Sample games/questions (if applicable)
• Illustrations
• Suggested presenters
• Set design
• Outline budget
• Merchandising opportunities

A short-form paper format... is used as a selling document. It is a much briefer version of the long-form format. It is often only one or two pages long, and is used as a selling document to arouse further interest from broadcasters and production companies. It might only contain the title, general principle, target audience, suggested host and a few sentences outlining the rounds/games.

Quite often its necessary to go through the process of writing the long-form format which you then condense down into the short-form version

The Right Fit (Telefactory)

Why do people buy TV formats?

The market for television programme formats exists because all the knowledge that surrounds a formattable programme or series is valuable. The success in one territory, if handled correctly, means instant success in another. An audience receives locally produced programmes with a known track record.

We say "if handled correctly" because one often has to take into account the value system of a country. This is more than just language barriers – it's also to do with the social attitudes of a country towards family life, physical contact, religion, alternative lifestyles, taboo subjects and so on.

A successful implementation of a format therefore takes the essence of a given formula, but nevertheless can allow for some degree of leeway in the actual implementation. Sometimes the format is adhered to rigidly, and other times it is tailored heavily, dependent on the culture in a particular territory.

Alternative Love (ECM)


Although there are sometimes geographic and linguistic problems to overcome, many format devisors and format owners recognise the significant benefits available in the international market.

The simple benefit is that licensing deals allow the format to be sold many times over. Television is now a global industry, and therefore sales of formats are global too. A strong format can be sold to well over 50 countries and maybe more.

Therefore, format devisors and owners need to harness this international market. However, this can be difficult, particularly as there are hundreds of companies and thousands of people who attend over ten key markets each year.

The Enemy Within (BBC Worldwide)

TV programme formats vs. TV programme sales

To sell a TV programme...

...implies that you are actually selling pre-made episodes of an existing show on tape, to be broadcast in a different country. These are often dubbed or captioned into another language.

To sell a TV format...
...implies selling the buyer a package of expertise about the programme so that they are in a position to make their own local version. This knowledge is available to the buyer as some or all of the following:

• Consultancy
• Format guide and production "bible"
• Scripts
• Blueprint and specification of set
• Music
• Visual graphics
• Titles
• Programme tapes
• Computer software
• Ratings
• Scheduling slots

...and all the inside knowledge that makes the format 'work'.

Dog Eat Dog (BBC Worldwide)

Format Protection / Legal

Protecting format rights: Case law

The law does not recognise formats because, from a legal point of view, formats are ideas which are not covered by traditional copyright and patent legislation.

The most frequent law case quoted on this matter is that of Hughie Green versus the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand. The case was considered by the Privy Council, New Zeland's highest court of appeal, before being rejected.

This established that there was no copyright in the format per se in the talent show Opportunity Knocks. However, there are a number of ways in which the elements that make up a format can be protected.

There is no such thing as a format right, BUT format rights are bought and sold each week for large sums.


• Legal means of protection includes copyright, trademarks, confidentiality and contracts

• Pitch your idea "in confidence" . Acquire a confidentiality agreement and try to obtain a signature before pitching your format.

• Mark written submissions as © and "Confidential" followed by the date of creation, the creator(s) and their contact details at the bottom of each page.

• Elaborate the concept in writing as fully as possible – written submissions do attract copyright law

• Register or deposit your ideas

• Protect names, slogans and titles by trademark registration


FRAPA (Format Recognition and Protection Association) aims to promote to producers, broadcasters and the law, the concept of formats as unique, intellectual properties.

Web: www.frapa.org

David Bodycombe


BTvFormats is indebted to David Bodycombe for writing the FAQ part of the site. David is one of the UK's most active games devisors, acting as an advisor and author in many different media. He has contributed to numerous television shows including The Mole (Channel 5), Sub Zero (BBC2), and five series of The Crystal Maze (Channel 4). He is currently developing a unique game element to complement Pyramid, a major BBC 1 documentary, and piloting his own game show with S4C (Channel 4 Wales). On BBC Radio 4 he appears on the problem solving show Puzzle Panel, and is also the researcher and question setter for the treasure hunt game X Marks the Spot. David has authored numerous highly acclaimed puzzle books, and writes 1000 puzzles a year for columns in periodicals such as the Daily Express, the Big Issue and Metro. His most recent book is entitled How To Devise A Game Show.

For further details,visit www.qwertyuiop.co.uk