ABC has ordered a presentation for a U.S. version of “What? Where? When?” the No. 1 Russian game show that next year will mark its 35th anniversary. Merv Griffin Entertainment is producing the project, tentatively titled “The Six,” after the number of contestants on the show.
“It’s much more accessible knowledge and intelligence than you would think at a first glance that translates to the viewers at home, and they can play along,” Merv Griffin Entertainment’s Roy Bank said. “It’s a show about teamwork and interaction.”
“What” was brought to Bank by Los Angeles-based Russian actor Alex Reznik, who loved the show growing up. “The second I saw it, I knew it was unique and different and would work on American television,” Bank said.
But acquiring rights wasn’t easy. They are controlled by Voroshilov’s widow, Natalia Stetzenko, and stepson Boris Kruck, who succeeded Voroshilov as the show’s host and director after his death in 2001. Several U.S. producers flirted with the idea of bringing “What” to the U.S., but none was able to acquire the format because the rights-holders have been protective of the show. Reznik spent about two years talking to Stetzenko and Kruck until he convinced them to allow him to do a U.S. version. Then, when he found a U.S. partner in Merv Griffin Entertainment, Bank had to get the Russians’ approval as well in video conferences via Skype.
“For the first time ever, after I was pitched something I had to interview for the right to buy it,” said Bank, who is executive producing “Six” with Reznik, Jonathan Barry, Ron Ward and showrunners Dwight Smith and Michael Agbabian, with Brian Veskosky co-executive producing.
Although there will be tweaks to the format — on the original series, the host is present in the studio only as a voice; in the U.S. version, there will be an on-set host — “our goal is to preserve as much of the essence of the original as we can,” Bank said.