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Why is Dutch reality TV so popular among The Traitors and Big Brother fans?
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Why is Dutch reality TV so popular among The Traitors and Big Brother fans?


If you are among the countless viewers anxiously anticipating each new episode of BBC’s The Traitors, you are no stranger to the exciting elements of shields, round tables, cloaks, and murders that make the show so deliciously dramatic.

The format of the show has been broadcasted in over 25 countries, with multiple markets, such as France, Germany, the US, and the UK, already showing second seasons. However, the original version is Dutch and was first tested as De Verraders in 2021.

This is not the first instance of Dutch TV formats gaining widespread success worldwide. The small country of Northern Europe has produced several highly popular shows such as Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, The Voice, and others.

What is the reason for the Netherlands’ success in the world of reality TV? Jasper Hoogendoorn, the creative director at IDTV, the production company behind The Traitors, shares that the show’s origins can be traced back to a dream, a book, and a party game. As a child, Hoogendoorn played a game called Werewolves, where he was falsely accused of being a werewolf and felt helpless.

In the game Werewolves, also known as Mafia, a moderator assigns roles to a group of players. One team, the werewolves, must secretly eliminate another team, the villagers. To succeed, the remaining villagers must uncover the werewolves’ identities before they become the target.

Edge of the seat stuff … The Traitors Series 2.

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After being approached by Marc Pos, co-creator of The Traitors, Hoogendoorn recalled a childhood game when he was reminded of an idea for an unscripted TV show based on a book about the 1629 shipwreck of the Dutch ship Batavia. The survivors were stranded on an island and tensions rose, ultimately leading to a mutiny where one group planned to kill their fellow survivors during the night.

The devious tale brought Hoogendoorn back to his Werewolves elimination, “my sense of powerlessness could be like the feeling they had on that island”. Hoogendoorn and Pos took historical drama and combined it with game strategy, adding some storytelling flair to map out De Verraders.

The UK version of the show, hosted by Claudia Winkleman, has been renewed for a third season by the BBC. It had over 4 million viewers tune in last week.

Although the show is doing well now, Hoogendorn admits it was difficult to get it off the ground. He recalls, “One network suggested having viewers try to figure out who the traitors were. But I insisted, ‘No! The show is about psychological realism – we want viewers to see both sides of the story, the group dynamics, and the manipulation.'”

The Americans … season 2 of The Traitors, US, with host Alan Cumming.

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According to Michel Nillesen, the managing director of IDTV, the Dutch’s success in reality TV can be attributed to their willingness to take risks. He believes that this is a characteristic of being Dutch, where sometimes you may lose something, but you also have the potential to gain something. Hoogendoorn shares this sentiment and adds that there is a saying in the Netherlands about taking risks in order to stand out, even if it means risking failure.

Dutch TV producers are familiar with facing challenges and negative feedback. The launch of Big Brother in 1999 caused a moral uproar in the Netherlands and garnered criticism from international media outlets.

The Washington Post noted that there was nothing uniquely Dutch about Big Brother, but made a lazy reference to Amsterdam’s red-light district windows, suggesting that the locals are comfortable with being under surveillance. The Independent came up with the phrase “sleaze and cheese TV”.

Since its inception, Big Brother has been broadcasted in over 65 markets, with more than 500 seasons airing. This has solidified its position as one of the most popular reality television shows to date. In 2023, ITV brought back the UK version of Big Brother after a five-year hiatus, attracting an impressive audience of over 2 million viewers per episode.

According to media expert Balázs Boross from the University of Amsterdam, it is difficult to understand the Netherlands’ success in producing unscripted TV shows without considering common national beliefs. He suggests that the country’s strong civil sector and ability to reach consensus on societal issues may contribute to this achievement.

According to Justine Huffmeijer, who leads the production company SimpelZodiak under the umbrella of Banijay Media Group, which oversees Big Brother, the Netherlands’ success in media can be attributed to their emphasis on teamwork and cooperation.

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The collaborative culture in the Netherlands may be influenced by its political system, which involves multiple parties. For over 100 years, the country has been run by coalitions, where any party with seats in parliament plays a part in forming the coalition. In the most recent election in 2023, 15 parties won seats and the current negotiations for a coalition are being led by the unexpected far-right winner, Geert Wilders. In order to form a government with other parties, Wilders will have to adjust his extreme views and work towards finding common ground. This process can take several months; in 2021, coalition talks lasted 271 days.

John de Mol Jr, a billionaire and media mogul from the Netherlands, is widely considered to be the most influential person in unscripted television. He is responsible for creating popular shows like Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Utopia, and The Voice, and holds substantial ownership in multiple Dutch channels.

Boross observes that De Mol’s involvement with Dutch networks allowed his unconventional ideas to thrive: “As a producer, he has the privilege to explore things that intrigue him.”

During a 2014 conversation, De Mol stated that the Netherlands is an ideal testing ground for new formats. According to him in an interview with FastCompany, “If it’s a genuine success in Holland, it will most likely be successful internationally as well.” He also mentioned his track record, noting that all of the major hits he has created in Holland have had global success.

Diane about to get shut in a coffin … The Traitors, UK Series 2.

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For creators of IDTV, it is crucial to consider a new format that can be successful beyond the borders of the Netherlands from the very beginning. According to Hoogendoorn, who says, “We are a small country and English is not our first language,” it is important to come up with innovative ideas for formats that can be sold globally. The goal is to capture the spirit of the times.

Hoogendoorn and Nillesen are keeping quiet about their upcoming idea that aims to conquer the world, but they mention that it aims to fill a gap in the talent show industry. “We hope to launch it by the end of this year, and we’re confident it will be a huge success,” stated Hoogendoorn.

Apart from the television networks and producers, it is essential to recognize the Dutch individuals who were the pioneers in participating in groundbreaking reality TV shows. Loiza Lamers, the runner-up of De Verraders season one and a model, believes that the Netherlands consistently excels in creating successful TV shows due to the country’s inherent lightheartedness. Similar to Hoogendoorn, Lamers grew up playing party games like Werewolves and continues to have game nights with her friends. She reflects on how shows like The Traitors are relatable to the viewers at home because playing games is deeply ingrained in Dutch culture.

Francis van Broekhuizen, a renowned opera singer, made it to the final episode of the first season of De Verraders alongside Lamers. According to her, the key to Dutch success lies in our human nature. She believes that despite our portrayal of being tolerant, recent events, such as the popularity of far-right politician Geert Wilders, show otherwise. She chuckles at the irony of this.

We believe that we hold a superior moral stance globally. While the Netherlands is a pleasant country, we are ultimately no different from others and are just as capable of deceiving one another.

Source: theguardian.com