World Screen: Re-Gender Tackles Provocative Topic

By Kristin Brzoznowski

NEW YORK: TV Formats shines a spotlight on the docureality format Re-Gender, in which men and women are given the chance to experience life as the opposite gender.

The series, sold by Armoza Formats, watches as five men and women ages 25 to 35 explore the nature of their own sex as well as the other gender’s.

“The first time we saw the show was prior to its broadcast on Israel’s Channel 10,” explains Avi Armoza, thefounder and CEO of Armoza Formats. “We loved the idea straight away—it felt like an incredibly relevant and particularly undealt with topic that would have a real impact and resonance for both the industry and viewers. The idea of taking people with issues against the opposite gender and allowing them to experience a journey of understanding by truly going through difficulties of the other sex struck a chord—there is such a truth behind this format and thus it has great potential for all audiences. And it’s a topic that has only become more relevant with time—there are still inequalities and prejudices hidden behind a seemingly more equal society, and we hope to shed light on this through a very real and entertaining viewing experience.”

The show made its debut on Channel 10 during prime time, where it raised the average share by 30 percent. “While it performed well in Israel and grabbed the attention of the industry, it was launched at a time when scripted reality and glossy shows were at their peak,” says Armoza. “Since then the market has moved toward much more realistic and authentic viewing experiences, looking for deeper truths and social experiments that challenge the norm.”

The format has since been adapted for Germany’s ZDFneo and India’s Arré. In Germany, it launched in a time slot typically reserved for scripted series and achieved higher ratings than previous successful fiction shows, Armoza says. It also attracted younger viewers to the public broadcaster. Last month, a local version of the series began streaming on India’s new online platform Arré as its flagship program, marking the country’s first social-experiment, digital reality show.

The Indian adaptation stayed quite close to the original idea, though the number of episodes was double the count. “The Indian version, while focusing on the physical transformation of the participants, has an even stronger emphasis on the mental and emotional transformation,” says B. Saikumar, founder and managing director of Arré. “This is most relevant in India, where gender roles and definitions have begun to change and are now evolving with time and are therefore a subject of animated conversation and heated debate. Arré Ho Ja Re-Gender has launched at a time when gender equality and stereotyping are centerstage issues in the national discourse.”

Saikumar adds, “The show is the first of its kind in India and has received an overwhelming response from users. The debate has been further stoked thanks to this show. As the show progresses into true threedimensional transformation of the physical, emotional and mental elements of the participants’ journeys, we only expect viewership, engagement and societal impact to go up further.”

Armoza cites two main challenges that must be addressed when producing a psychological social experiment, and two key elements to stick to in the adaptations. “Regarding the challenges, the first revolves around making the experiment as real as possible so that the journey is believable for all and can have the most impact for the participants and viewers. Any experiment that fakes it too much or isn’t believed enough by the participants and those surrounding them will not only make for bad TV, it will also make for a bad experience.

“With this in mind, the second challenge is to maintain the above while providing the right amount of support for the participants along the way,” he continues. “In Re-Gender the elements of emotional support are incredibly important—not just for the viewers to understand what they’re going through and how it feels, but for the participants to be protected to the right level while still allowing them to experience the tough journey.”

Armoza explains that the two main elements that are crucial to the format are related to its challenges.

“The first is casting—you want to find people who will be able to visually transform to create a real and believable experience throughout, so that the impact is truly felt by all. The second is to have a clear path prior to shooting in regard to what you want each of your characters to achieve in this experiment. In this way you can plan the production accordingly to help them reach this goal, so that by the end of the experiment they come out with new thoughts and conclusions about their personal world and their relationship with their surroundings.”

With the success of the currently-streaming Indian adaptation, Armoza says that the format has been garnering a lot of interest lately internationally. “At the moment we are working with a few partners on this show, including a company in the U.S. interested in a local adaptation, and we look forward to taking this format to more cultures.

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