Some brands are able to get their names inserted into TV titles via a sponsorship, but only a few are big enough to become the subject of a show themselves.
Lego joins that group tonight, as Fox debuts the reality competition series Lego Masters, in which teams of builder duos compete in elaborate brick-building challenges to win a $100,000 prize and the title of “Lego Masters.”
It’s Fox’s second series built around a popular brand—music game show Beat Shazam was renewed for Season 4 just last week—though the Lego Masters format is already a hit in Britain and Australia.
Fox heavily promoted the new series during Sunday’s Super Bowl, as the network looked to keep viewers tuned in beyond the game and secure its first season win in the adults 18-49 demo in eight years.
Unlike most other brands, Lego has a universality that made it an ideal fit for its own TV series. “I don’t think there’s a person in America who hasn’t at one point built something out of Lego, which you really can’t say about any other toy,” said Rob Wade, Fox Entertainment’s president of alternative entertainment and specials.
Lego has been “great partners” with Fox, Wade added. “I think they see the value to their brand. It’s a great opportunity for people to see that building Lego is not only fun but also quite artistic and quite aspirational,” he said.
The brand is “incredibly involved” in Lego Masters, from designing the build challenges to providing experts, said executive producer Jill Wilfert, who heads up inbound licensing and entertainment for The Lego Group. The show’s two judges, Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett, are both lead designers for Lego, and host Will Arnett voices Lego Batman in the Lego theatrical films.
“What we love about the show is it really showcases the power and the creativity of the Lego brick itself,” Wilfert said. With Lego, “you have to put something into it to get something out of it. And I think the show does such a beautiful job really demonstrating that and bringing that to life.”
Showrunner and executive producer Anthony Dominici said much of his collaboration with Lego while making the show “was about, this is a really fun idea and how do we make it bigger? How do we make our builds bigger? We really wanted to celebrate what they stand for and what they’re all about.”
Lego expects Lego Masters will give the brand a major engagement boost among U.S. viewers, which has already happened during the other iterations of the show. “When people were watching the show in Australia, you could see Google search went way up, as people were searching for Lego,” Wilfert said.
But while Lego is leveraging its social media channels and Lego stores to capitalize on that increased brand interest, it wants Lego Masters to stand on its own. “We don’t make the content just to sell product,” Wilfert said. “We really want to make sure that the content in and of itself is valuable [and] engaging.”
Building Lego Masters
Karen Smith, CEO of Tuesday’s Child, the U.K. production company that created Lego Masters, was inspired to make the show after seeing a popular documentary about Lego called The Secret World of Lego that aired on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2015.
“We realized it had broad family appeal, because Lego has touched everybody,” Smith said. “So we said to ourselves, ‘Could we take what Lego is about and create essentially a talent competition out of it that would appeal to a broad audience?’”
It took her company a year and a half to win over Lego, which had been unimpressed by several previous pitches for TV shows from other entities.
“We’d been pitched a lot of times, but nobody had quite nailed the concept and how they could bring it to life in a way that we felt made sense for the brand and aligned with our brand values,” Wilfert said.
However, the Tuesday’s Child team proved to Lego “that they really did their homework and really learned about the brand,” Wilfert said. “They were able to capture that essence of how you could turn that into a competition show that was really celebrating creativity, because that was super important to us, versus something that was a bit more sensationalistic —and really tried to make it very inclusive.”
Talks continued for more than a year as they worked together to fine-tune the format, but Smith didn’t get discouraged.
“Lego is the most popular brand in the world. It’s incredibly successful,” Smith said. “They don’t need to do something like this, and they certainly don’t need to do something like this unless it’s with the right partners,. Because my perspective on them is they’d rather not do it if there’s any risk that it could upset their fans or bring their brand into disrepute.”
Having just made 2014’s The Lego Movie, Lego was open to using entertainment content as a new way to connect with its fan base, which Lego Masters would do.
“One of the things we see from our own fan community was that Lego appeals very broadly to people,” Wilfert said. “Kids certainly loved it, but we have a pretty broad base of fans that were really into the brand. And being able to have a showcase for those people who really love the brand we thought would be meaningful for us.”
The idea of contestants working together was also appealing to the brand. “Lego is often thought about as something that you do more in isolation, and this brings an incredible social aspect to it,” Wilfert said.
The original British version of Lego Masters debuted in 2017 and quickly took off. Tuesday’s Child looked to roll the format out internationally and enlisted production company Endemol Shine, which had a track record of turning a family-friend U.K. competition series—MasterChef—into a global franchise.
Much as it did with MasterChef, Endemol turned Lego Masters into an Australian show and “gave it its urgency and its structure,” said Fox’s Wade, who saw that version of the series—which Smith said was the biggest show in Australia last year—and wanted it for his own network.
Fox “is the perfect network for the show to be on,” Smith said, “because it has that slightly younger, more mischievous but still broad, mainstream viewership.”
As Endemol Shine tailored the show for a U.S. audience, “we wanted to take the foundation that was rock solid and take everything to the next level,” said executive producer DJ Nurre, who is evp, unscripted original series for Endemol Shine North America.
That included playing up the aspects of the Australian version that spoof the reality TV genre.
“It’s kind of like the Deadpool of reality shows,” said Wade of Lego Masters. “It laughs at the tropes, the typical way in which these stories are told and some of the way things are shot.”
Given the additional layer of humor, audiences “are going to come for a reality show, and they’re going say, ‘This is a really different type of show. It’s a really funny show. It’s a really joyous show. And it’s a show which I can watch with my whole family,’” Wade said.
As the Fox version is set to debut, Endemol Shine and Tuesday’s Child are busy prepping other iterations of Lego Masters with contestants from the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. Smith said other deals are in the works with France, Poland and possibly even China—“It’s very complicated in China because of their IP laws, but there’s a real appetite for it,” Smith said.
“We’re excited to see it roll out around the world,” Wilfert said.
And if Lego Masters takes off in the U.S., Endemol Shine hopes to take yet another page out of its MasterChef playbook and create a Junior version of the show featuring younger contestants.
“We’d do that in a heartbeat,” Nurre said.