TV Magic, Storytelling, and Science of Eight Limbs with Riaz Mehta
At the event, he met up with Riaz Mehta, the director of production for The Challenger Muay Thai, and they got together for a little talk about reality TV, drama, Thailand’s national sport, and whether Tai Chi would make for great television programming.
About Riaz Mehta and Imagine Group
Riaz Mehta is the Chairman and CEO of Imagine Group, a company specializing in the production of high quality Television and Film content. The international TV Production company is headquartered in Singapore and amongst its popular TV productions, are The Contender Asia (Muay Thai) produced in partnership with Mark Burnett Productions and The Biggest Loser Asia (a Shine Reveille format). Their shows have achieved success in Asia, USA, Australia, UK and Europe.
One of Imagine Group’s latest production is The Challenger Muay Thai, a reality TV sports show that follows 16 fighters in their quest to be World Champion. It combines elements of reality, gruelling training, drama and elimination fights in 12 one hour episodes, ending in a two hour season finale fight, where one fighter will take home 100,000 US dollars in prize money and the Challenger World Championship title.
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Reality TV Fan Herman: Hi Mr Riaz, my name is Herman and I am a writer at PopConversation. I love drama but I’m deathly afraid of actual confrontations so I watch reality TV shows instead; its much safer that way and I can trash talk people from the comfort of my couch.
How important are the elements of emotional turbulence and unexpected twists and turns to a reality TV show?
Riaz: Oh it’s very critical, you’ll need the drama to draw the viewers in- the people love it, they love to look into other people’s life and how drama spices things up. A good reality TV show is also one that has suspense and hooks that leaves the viewers wanting to know more about the characters.
The audiences should be able to connect with them emotionally; otherwise they won’t be coming back. In essence, you’ve got to create that connection and tell that story in a way that people care about.
Reality TV Fan Herman: The Challenger Muay Thai is the successor of The Contender Asia that aired in 2008. For fans of the popular reality TV series, what changes and tweaks have you made to the show?
Riaz: Well firstly, the calibre of fights and how we’ve taken them to a whole new level- this time around the fighters are very well matched. Also there’s a difference in the format, we’ve made it a lot more appealing for the audience- we’ve taken their feedback from what they said about The Contender and we tailored it to their tastes and preferences so that every single episode would have them at the edge of their seats.
For this new series, we decided to focus on the fighters and there’s an increased emphasis on their very own story outside of their families. Audiences will learn more about the contestants, who they are and what makes them amazing fighters. There’s a noticeable shift towards telling a story of their individual journeys and the interaction and the drama between these individuals. We also did away with the challenges and we’re showing much more of their training process instead.
Reality TV Fan Herman: Muay Thai is a high impact, high energy sports that’s comprised of many fast and furious blows delivered through a myriad of hard surfaced human joint parts designed to cause varying levels (usually very high) of physical discomfort for the individuals on receiving the end.
Tai Chi, on the other hand, is a little less explosive and impactful. Will it make for good reality TV?
Riaz: Haha! Actually it doesn’t matter, what’s more important is portraying the human journey and the art of story telling; and when you know the art of story telling you can take anything and make it interesting ☺
Even with a sport like Tai Chi, you could do something interesting like go into the spirit of the sport and what makes these people do what they do and their very own stories, that’s how you can make it engaging.
Reality TV Fan Herman: My mum loves watching Korean drama; the stories are very emotional and the men and women are very pretty.
What’s the difference between creating a reality TV show as opposed to a drama series or a sitcom?
Riaz: The biggest difference is that these are real people and they’re not actors; with an actor you can script a storyline and tell them what to do whereas with a reality TV participant you cannot; you have to let them tell their own stories and that’s usually more interesting for the viewers.
Reality TV Fan Herman: Mr Riaz, why hasn’t there been a Survivor Asia yet and when is it coming out?
Riaz: Mark Burnett’s made that show in many parts of the world but not with a full cast of Asians; I think it can definitely work, actually I’ve never asked Mark why he hasn’t done so yet, he probably should, haha! I think it would work- we have fantastic islands and there’s a whole bunch of people that would want to be a part of it.
Survivor is quite an expensive show to make though, just cause of the logistics and what goes into it, but it would be really cool to do it for Asia. I’ll make sure to bring it up to him the next time we meet!
Reality TV Fan Herman: I come from a traditional Asian family and I’m slightly more conservative and reserved. One time I brought a girl home to meet my family but they did not approve of the relationship because I was still too young then and my mum told me that I should wait until I am emotionally mature enough to handle such a commitment before I go around holding hands with a lady friend. A few days after, I turned 40.
What are the differences making a reality TV show in Asia as opposed to making one in the west?
Riaz: Well, if you are talking generally, if the cast is primarily Asian, then by nature Asian people are more conservative and you won’t have that explosive drama and that’s where you’ve got to be really careful with the casting to give you the characters that you need for the show ☺
The other differences is that in the west, the budgets are much bigger than in Asia, and that allows us to have much more freedom in what we do as well. Producing a show in Asia really stretches your creativity and teaches you how to do things on a tighter budget while still maintaining the level of quality which we do.
Reality TV Fan Herman: Please share with us new and exciting developments and shows that will be coming out towards the end of this year. I usually spend my time at home during the year end holidays because nobody asks me out and I need some quality TV programming to help me make the time pass faster.
Riaz: We’ve one show coming up, it’s called The Apartment. It’s a reality TV show, it’s in the design genre and it’s never been done before in Asia. The brand new concept is very innovative and I’m sure that our audiences would love it. You would loosely akin The Apartment to Design Star from the U.S, also, if you watch Australian programming, there’s this series called The Block. But I assure you that The Apartment is a totally brand new format and you’d just have to wait and watch it when it comes out!
Riaz Mehta, CEO and Chairman of Imagine Group
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---Additional Details and Information---
Premieres Sept 15th 2011. Every Thurs @ 9pm (JKT/TH), 10pm (SG/MY/HK/PH) More Information >>
Nicola Eliot, Marketing and Communications Manager, Imagine Group
Dean and the team at IMSG
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