NEW YORK: A decade after the launch of TLC’s Miami Ink and A&E’s Inked—both long credited with mainstreaming the once taboo world of tattoos—unscripted titles focusing on body art continue to draw audiences worldwide and across demographics.
At the most recent MIPTV, FremantleMedia International (FMI) premiered Bondi Ink, an Australia-set reality show. A+E Networks, meanwhile, reps the skin-design series Epic Ink, the first season of which aired on A&E last summer.
“Back in 2005, when the genre originally took off with Miami Ink and Inked, I think that tattoos still had the ability to shock viewers, since tattooing was still a transgressive thing to see,” says Evan Lerner, executive producer of Epic Ink. “Since then, tattoos have become a lot more acceptable. Now people love seeing the incredible pieces of art that people put on their bodies.”
Co-produced with Matador Content, Epic Ink follows the artists of the Oregon-based studio Area 51 Tattoo. The crew specializes in hyper-realistic designs, creating works that seem to pop off the clients’ bodies. “Their artistry kind of focuses on pop-culture tattoos,” Lerner says. “If you’re into ’80s movies or you’re into sci-fi or horror movies, they’re bringing that stuff to life on people’s skin.”
FMI’s Bondi Ink, produced by Unbreakable International for Australia’s Network Ten, brings the stars from TLC’s NY Ink across the Pacific and down under. NY Ink co-star Mike Diamond fronts the series, which follows the exploits of an in-demand tattoo parlor in Oz during the busy summer season.
“[The series] throws some of the characters from another Ink show into this Australian situation,” says Angela Neillis, FMI’s director of non-scripted content for the U.K., EMEA and Asia Pacific. “It’s a new territory, new vistas, a new beach, beautiful people, so that’s a nice new spin.”
But beautiful tattoos aren’t always at the center of these shows: a major component of the ever-growing subgenre are titles showcasing poorly executed ink jobs and body art that’s far from artistic.
Created by Studio Lambert for the U.K.’s E4, Tattoo Fixers sees clients go under the needle again to obscure regretful mistakes, from vulgar images to names of ex-partners. Handling worldwide distribution is all3media international, which also debuted the show’s pilot at MIPTV.
“Tattoo Fixers…doesn’t look at the business—it focuses on those who are happy to admit to themselves that they made a grave error with their skin art,” says Nick Smith, the senior VP of international format production at all3media international. “Three of the best tattoo artists in the country pitch their idea for a tattoo cover-up in our pop-up tattoo parlor and the client goes ahead with the idea they like the best.”
A+E Networks offers the similarly themed reality show Bad Ink, produced by Sharp Entertainment for A&E, while FMI reps 495 Productions’ docu-reality program Tattoo Nightmares, which originally aired on Spike in the U.S.
Still, distributors say it doesn’t matter whether the series spotlight flawless skin masterpieces or designs gone horribly wrong: tattoos of all stripes hold worldwide appeal. FMI has placed Tattoo Nightmares across Europe, from the U.K. to Germany and Russia, while broadcasters in France, Australia and Norway have already prebought all3media international’s Tattoo Fixers ahead of its U.K. premiere.
“Tattoos are globally popular; whether you’re living in France or Germany or Korea, the art and the visuals transcend language barriers,” says A+E Networks’ Lerner, who also executive produces Bad Ink.
However, some territories are harder to reach than others. “In the Middle East, it’s a little tricky to sell tattoo shows since in some countries tattoos aren’t actually permitted,” says FMI’s Neillis. “I don’t think that affects us investing in the shows, though, because elsewhere, they sell like hotcakes.”
All are in agreement that a strong focus on charismatic personalities, compelling storytelling and jaw-dropping visuals are key to ensuring that shows shining a spotlight on the tattoo chair continue to lure buyers and audiences.
“Every person who walks into a tattoo parlor, whether they want to take [a tattoo] off or put it on, has a unique, personal story to tell,” Neillis says. “As long as those stories remain interesting, these shows will continue to do well.”