Willy Wonka Reality Series Heats Up At Netflix As Rise Of Unscripted Bake-Offs Rattles Producers

EXCLUSIVE: Willy Wonka, the eccentric founder of the Wonka Chocolate Factory from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has been played by Gene Wilder, Johnny Depp and Timothée Chalamet on the big screen.

He’s now set to come to the small-screen in a much different way.

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Deadline understands that Netflix is preparing a reality competition series based on the Roald Dahl story. This comes after the streamer acquired the Roald Dahl Story Company in 2021.

The expansive project is the latest example of a burgeoning trend in the unscripted market in the U.S. – The Bake-Off.

We hear that Netflix went out to a number of production companies, believed to include American Idol producer Fremantle, Wall to Wall, the British production company behind Who Do You Think You Are?, Nobody’s Hero, the production company behind Netflix’s Bullsh*t: The Game Show and Snack vs. Chef, and The Garden, which was one of the companies behind Squid Game: The Challenge.

Nobody’s Hero, which is run by Christopher Potts and Jonty Nash, and ITV-backed The Garden are understood to be out of the process, leaving Fremantle and Wall to Wall, which is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, to battle it out.

Warner Bros. Discovery, which also operates a number of U.S. unscripted divisions such as Warner Horizon, is expected to be involved in some shape even if Wall to Wall doesn’t land the series given its links to the movies. While here is currently no deal between the David Zaslav-run company and Netflix, if the series was to use clips from any of the movies, it would need to work with the studio, for instance.

As IP and A-list talent become more entwined in the unscripted world, the bake off is happening more and more. However, many unscripted producers are becoming wary of being involved in such processes, spending resources and large amounts of time to try and win projects, rather than the traditional development and pitching process.

“Bake offs are an epidemic and we hate them,” one top unscripted producer told Deadline.

It comes as more and more companies control valued IP that can be turned into game shows and competition formats as well as more talent, who are under deals at these companies, want to get involved in unscripted television.

“In the good old days, once in a while there were bake-offs, but typically, networks would pick a production company they knew and trusted and they would just partner up and make it work. But now because the markets so bad, they have the opportunity to make people audition. It’s the bane of our existence,” the producer added.

Netflix is obviously going through this process and Deadline understands that it held a similar bake-off for one of its recent Meghan Markle reality series.

But it’s not just Netflix; a number of its rival streamers, broadcast networks as well as studios are also going down this route. Producers say that they are more likely to get involved with a bake off at a network, rather than a studio because the chances of a greenlight are higher, but are still not delighted with the trend.

Another producer added that it’s a “sign of the times”. “You can go in with a bunch of great ideas and spend $50,000 before you get an answer, that could be a no,” he added.

However, not everyone is totally against it and it works for some larger companies that have the scale and resources to win such big business. “I think it’s just a moment. It’s a new way to do it,” added another source.

Many believe that the latest iteration of the trend seems to have started from the UK. It began when BBC Studios was commercialized in 2017, allowing it to produce shows for third party broadcasters and streamers for the first time.

The trade-off was that in-house shows would be put out to tender, allowing independent production companies to compete to win the rights to produce these shows for the BBC.

Series such as Mastermind, sports competition series Question of Sport, drama Holby City, and daytime entertainment format Bargain Hunt were put through the tender process.

In 2022, Antiques Roadshow went through the tender process and earlier this year, the BBC put  long-running kids series Blue Peter and the Eurovision Song Contest through this as well.

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