TBI In Conversation: Connecting a Japanese Drama Format with a Global Audience


Nippon TV revealed this week that it is expanding its global ambitions, but the company has been quietly moving in that direction for some time. Michael Nakan, CCO of Envision Entertainment, speaks to TBI about his company’s partnership with the Japanese giant and the continuation of their joint drama project, Related.

While Western audiences have for many years been heavy consumers of unscripted formats from Asia – especially Japan and Korea – interest in drama from the region has moved more slowly.

Yet as Parasite and, more recently, squid game, have shown, the West’s appetite for drama from the region is growing, and several companies are looking to satisfy it.

Among them is Envision Entertainment, which struck a pact with Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV in 2020 to co-produce and develop together new scripted projects for the global market. The deal was designed to create content that “combines Western and Eastern sensibilities”, and the block’s first project was, aptly named, Related.

The Japanese show aired in Japan on Nippon TV in April, featuring a 20-year-old Homebound detective in Tokyo who struggles to solve a crime with the help of his international peers online.

“The show was very successful in Japan,” says Michael Nakan, Creative Director and Founder of Envision Entertainment. It ranked at the top of Twitter, was a major hit on the combined Japanese catch-up service and Nakan says the team behind the show consider it “a very successful case study”.

Global strategy

“It’s a really good example of the success you can have with very early creative partnerships in the international market,” he says of the show.

The drama is by no means intended solely for the Japanese market, however, with the creators ensuring that it has “built-in DNA” that will allow it to travel more widely.

This built-in DNA revolves around “home sleuths,” who may be based around the world but come together to solve crimes, providing an instant ability at the center of a show to travel to new destinations.

“The idea is that, in a very discreet way, we can create an international co-production with a different version of the same format but with a shared universe of history”, explains Nakan.

“It was a plus and it is going very well. We now have the Japanese version which has worked very well and is now attracting interest elsewhere, and now we want to create a shared universe.

Nakan is now taking the concept globally to appeal to regional buyers, with the exec adding that there are “lots of interesting conversations with US and European streamers, businesses in France and Germany.”

“They all aim to do something very unique with the format, which doesn’t necessarily change territory but grafts together a shared universe.”

Dual approach

The idea of ​​franchising a show is, of course, nothing new, especially with Marvel’s huge success in creating behemoth universes that house its myriad comic book stars.

There have also been attempts to create universes with a more targeted approach to exploiting regional programming, such as Beta Film’s The Internetwhich had some commercial success.

For Nakan, the idea with Related is to have a “dual approach”, with the show created “primarily for local audiences but also with an international DNA that allows the story to develop those global connections”.

Nakan declines to provide further details on the companies interested, but it’s an idea that seems to have some upside for global streamers and broadcasters. The former can create a tiered universe with regional stories airing on a global network, while local broadcasters can purchase a “profitable” format that offers an international perspective.

With the deal struck in 2021, Envision and Nippon TV co-own the operating format and Nakan says it also provides an opportunity to bring homegrown talent to the global stage. For the executive himself, the next step is to find another buyer to ensure the Related the ecosystem begins to expand further.

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