If toymaker Mattel Inc. plays its cards right, one of its best-selling classic games could soon grace television screens around the world.
The El Segundo company announced last month that it had formed a partnership with production company Gurin Co. to create a fast-paced, high-stakes television game show based on the colorful card game Uno.
Gurin’s production credits include business reality series “Shark Tank” on ABC. The Studio City company has secured worldwide television rights to the Uno show and is working to sell it to global networks.
Phil Gurin, president and chief executive, traveled last week to Cannes, France, where he was scheduled to attend the annual MipTV television and online conference to pitch the show.
Making TV shows and movies based on board games and toys has been a hit-or-miss business. Mattel competitor Hasbro Inc. opened a production office on the Universal Pictures lot in Burbank four years ago. It also launched satellite TV channel Hub, which airs its Family Game Night programming, with Discovery Communications Inc. in 2010.
While Hasbro’s toy-based “Transformers” movie series has grossed more than $2.6 billion at the box office, its board game-based movie “Battleship” was a flop. The Pawtucket, R.I., company has announced that it plans to make two more of its popular board games – Hungry Hungry Hippos and Monopoly – into movies, too.
“Uno: The Game Show” is still in the early stages of development. Depending on a network’s preference and capital investment, the show could be aired as a half-hour daily game show with a $100,000 jackpot or as an hourlong prime-time show with a $1 million jackpot.
Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of toy industry site TimetoPlayMag.com, said Uno has a good chance of success as a game show, provided it finds the right audience. The 40-year-old card game is meant to be played by children ages 7 and up.
“It’s not a terrible stretch to make a board game into a game show, but what’s important is that you target the right demographic,” Silver said. “To me, there should be kids involved.”
Mattel did not comment for this article.
Gurin, who began his entertainment career writing for popular Nickelodeon kids shows such as “Double Dare” and “Wild and Crazy Kids,” said he has long thought Uno would make a great TV game show.
“Uno as a brand has been in the consciousness of TV producers for a long time,” he said. “We’ve all thought, ‘That’s a great game. How do we make it a game show?’ No one was quite sure how to crack it.”
Then, about six months ago, Caleb Nelson, a key grip, and Tim Sheridan, a cameraman, came to Gurin with their take on televising the simple card game.
“They showed me their adaptation, and the second I saw it, I said, ‘This is great. They cracked it,’” he said.
The household card game is not particularly complex to play. Gurin said the game show he’s pitching to networks aims to make the game more exciting to play and watch on television.
“We’re making it a bigger deal on TV; it’s not just the card game you grew up playing,” he said. “It certainly retains the heart and soul, but we added a lot of elements.”
He said he has already begun pitching the show to U.S. networks and said he has gotten good feedback.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” he said. “It’s always a challenge to sell any TV show to anybody, but I think the game is strong, really strong.”
Mattel, which markets Uno as “America’s No. 1 Card Game,” prints more than 4.5 million decks of the game each year. In the four decades since the game was first developed by an Ohio barber, the deck has been sold in more than 100 different variations of its bold, primary-colored theme. Mattel has developed more than 25 different ways to play the game, too. The original version of the game, played with a deck of 108 cards, retails for between $6 and $8.
The game can be played by two or more players, each holding seven cards. Using “action cards” with directions such as “skip” and “draw two,” players take turns discarding cards until one player wins by getting rid of all his cards.
The agreement with Mattel allows the production company to develop, produce and sell the Uno game show domestically and internationally. Gurin said Mattel would consult on the show.
Jim Chartier, an analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. in New York who covers both Mattel and Hasbro, said the show could help Uno sales, but wouldn’t have much of an impact on Mattel’s financials.
“It’d definitely help the Uno business, but that’s a very small part of what Mattel does,” he said.
The toy company reported net income of almost $307 million in the fourth quarter last year on revenue of $2.26 billion.
Silver at TimetoPlayMag said Mattel considers the game important nevertheless and he expects executives will want to make sure the show is done well.
“Uno’s a very important brand in their games line,” he said. “This is something I think they’d want control over in terms of content, because they need to protect their brand.”