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The WB loads up on reality shows -- and Mark Burnett scripted programming -- for 2004-05 season


By Wade Paulsen, 06/02/2004 

A new name can now be added to the list of prolific yet successful producers of TV shows, joining such celebrities as Jerry Bruckheimer and Dick Wolf: that of reality television superproducer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice).

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At The WB's "upfront" conference for advertisers in May, The WB announced that it will adding three new shows produced by Burnett during the 2004-05 season -- and only one of those shows will be a reality show. Of the two scripted shows, one is a situation comedy and one is a drama.

The two new scripted shows, which have been previously discussed, are the result of a two-year development deal between Mark Burnett Productions and The WB. One show, the sitcom Commando Nanny, loosely based on Burnett's real-life experiences, will premiere in fall 2004 on Fridays at 8:30 PM ET/PT. The other show, the comic book... oops, graphic novel-based... drama Global Frequency, will premiere sometime in midseason.

Burnett's third show is a reality show that also will premiere during midseason. Because of Burnett's problems with intellectual-property theft, The WB did not reveal the concept of the show during the upfronts -- a change in approach for Burnett that was noted all the way to the New York Times.

In fact, the WB is planning to air three new reality series as part of its midseason schedule that were not described during the upfronts. The other two come from Bruce Nash, the producer of Meet My Folks and For Love or Money for NBC and the upcoming Outback Jack for TBS, and from RDS, the British company that created ABC's upcoming Wife Swap.

But those three series will only constitute half of The WB's midseason reality offerings, as the network ditches former president Jamie Kellner's disdain for reality TV -- a leading reason why Kellner is the former head of The WB -- and embraces the format that's proven popular among the younger viewers around which the network has based its reputation. Also airing will be Bachelor producer Mike Fleiss' third installment of High School Reunion plus his new Big Man on Campus series. Then comes Wannabes, in which 10 young wannabe-actresses compete on a WB reality show to win a role on ... a WB scripted show. Talk about network cross-promotion.

In addition to the six midseason reality shows, The WB has a hybrid game show, Studio 7, that it is straining to position as a reality show. The concept involves contestants forced to live together for a week before competing on the game show. We have a strong suspicion that this show, which is going up against CBS's CSI and NBC's The Apprentice, is little more than a low-budget sacrificial lamb ... and so the less said, the better.

As mentioned above, the announcements mark a significant change from The WB's past take on reality TV, reflected in former chief Jamie Kellner's quote about the "problem" with it: "You can get in, watch, and get out and just flip around, where really getting involved in series television is more like marriage." As its 2004-05 schedule illustrates, The WB's present management no longer appears to share Kellner's opinion, and is clearly committed to becoming a major player in the programming genre. After watching the network's ratings slip this season as a result of its younger viewers flocking to unscripted programming, current WB CEO Jordan Levin flat-out apologized to advertisers for the network's previous snubbing of reality programming during his "upfront" presentation. "We will never make that mistake again," a contrite Levin told the audience.

Time magazine noted that, with The WB's emphasis on Mark Burnett and reality TV, maybe the network should change its name "from The WB to The MB." As we observed previously, Burnett will have at least six shows running on the six broadcast networks during the traditional season, including three on The WB and two on NBC (The Apprentice, The Contender) plus his original hit Survivor on CBS. That matches Jerry Bruckheimer's six shows for CBS --five dramas (three versions of CSI, Without a Trace and Cold Case) plus a reality show (The Amazing Race) -- in the battle for TV-production supremacy. We simply hope that Burnett has hired top-notch producers to helm his shows during his absences.

For those who are interested, here are The WB's glowing descriptions of its upcoming scripted Mark Burnett shows and its reality shows -- or, at least, the ones that have been disclosed. Any resemblance to the real shows is generally coincidental:

FALL 2004

COMMANDO NANNY - When you’re a 20-year-old ex-commando from the British Special Forces, how can you channel the thrill of combat into your next career? How about defending your life against three Beverly Hills rich kids? That’s exactly what happened to mega-producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) when he first ventured to the West Coast from the British Army Parachute Regiment. Burnett brings his unique experience to The WB in the new comedy, Commando Nanny. Meet Miles Ross (Philip Winchester, Thunderbirds), the young commando whose new barracks are the guest room of a Beverly Hills mansion. Tycoon Ben Winter (Gerald McRaney, Major Dad) has no intention of hiring the young soldier, but Ben’s new, younger wife Lizzie (Kristin Bauer, Anger Management) sees something in Miles and offers him a challenging new mission: monitoring Seth (Max Wolf Burkholder, Daddy Daycare), a 5-year-old in desperate need of attention. Accepting what he intends to be a short-term nanny position, Miles becomes an army of one as he and Ben battle in a daily test of wills. Complicating the agenda are Seth’s older siblings. Katie (Beatrice Rosen, Chasing Liberty) is a very mature teenager who flirts with Miles while plotting behind his back with her surly brother Steven (newcomer Ricky Mabe) to drive the new recruit AWOL. Miles’ only R&R comes from his best friend, Nick (British stage actor Adam Campbell). From the bunkers to the bunk beds of Beverly Hills, Miles Ross is in for his toughest detail yet when he enlists as the resident commando nanny. A Warner Bros. Television Production Inc. with executive producers Mark Burnett and David Flebotte (The Bernie Mac Show).

STUDIO 7 - Producer Michael Davies (Who Wants To Be a Millionaire) is taking his acclaimed showmanship into new territory for The WB. His premise: what happens when you mix the reality and game show genres and produce a quiz show presented from the contestants’ point of view? Introducing Studio 7, a radical new series that pits seven bright young adults against each other in a series of intense elimination rounds that test their knowledge of pop culture, world events, science and literature. Only one can win a large cash prize. The catch is that the contestants will also be roommates for one week in one of Manhattan’s most luxurious apartments. Blending the rivalry and romantic complications of reality programming with the high pressure stakes of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Studio 7 will not only allow viewers to play along, but will give them the intimate perspective of the competitors themselves. Alliances will be forged, passions will ignite and newfound friendships will be undermined as the contestants vie to be the grand champion of Studio 7. From Diplomatic and executive producer Michael Davies.

WINTER 2005

GLOBAL FREQUENCY - Based on the suspenseful and action-packed graphic novel franchise, Global Frequency marks the dramatic television debut of successful producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice). The Global Frequency is an independent, illegal, covert intelligence agency determined to prevent international politics from undermining the security of the global community. Led by the former NSA agent Miranda Zero, GF is everywhere and nowhere - and it’s mankind’s best defense against everything that occurs outside our peripheral vision. This marvel of brains and machinery is hacked into every satellite, mainframe, cell phone and database across the globe. With the help of her central command dispatcher, the feisty but brilliant Aleph, Zero is just a phone call away from tapping anyone anywhere to volunteer their skills to help save the world. GF’s newest recruit, suspended cop Sean Ronin, is paired with introverted Kate Finch, a mastermind of the scientific inner workings of the covert network. The most original conspiracy saga since The X-Files, Global Frequency shows us that one person can make a difference in the battle against the dangers of the modern world. From Warner Bros. Television Production Inc. and Cloudbreak Entertainment with writer/executive producer John Rogers (upcoming film Catwoman, The Core) and director Nelson McCormick (Alias, Third Watch).

HIGH SCHOOL REUNION - Returning for a third installment on The WB, the reality series reunites former high school classmates for their 10-year reunion. This time around, classmates from a Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale will reunite in beautiful Maui. From Next Entertainment and Telepictures with executive producer Mike Fleiss and co-executive producer Mike Nichols.

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS - From the creator of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette comes the ultimate Greek God competition. On a beautiful college campus, in a beautiful setting, with lots of beautiful people, things will get ugly. That’s because we’ve got not one, but TWO cutthroat competitions. First, the school’s sorority sisters are going to pick the Big Man on Campus - the cutest, hottest, sweetest frat boy around. But then the tables will turn as he methodically chooses his Campus Queen - from the very same co-eds who picked him. These girls will do anything to make the grade. From Next Entertainment Studios and Telepictures with executive producer Mike Fleiss.

WANNABES - Everyone’s a wannabe… but who’s it gonnabe? It’s the oldest story in Hollywood… the beautiful girl from Nowheresville who heads to Hollywood, pays her dues, waits her turn, until one day she’s discovered and overnight she’s a STAR! But guess what? It doesn’t really happen like that. The reality is much more brutal, and for most of these beautiful girls, the ugly truth is that they’ll never make it. Wannabes takes you behind the famous Hollywood sign into the hard reality of showbiz hopefuls. Away from the glamorous lights, there are thousands of young women living in tiny apartments, working lousy jobs, going to auditions and praying for that one big break. The series will focus on a small group of gorgeous starlets who live together and try to become friends while competing for the same roles. A panel of judges will eliminate one aspiring star each week as they compete in series of tasks, some silly, some serious. Delivering a singing telegram, performing in a clown suit at a birthday party, casting sessions and very odd jobs will all be part of the audition process. Will they support each other or show no mercy? Who’s got what it takes, and who’s got a one-way ticket out of town? Share the rough road of near misses and close calls. Finally, share the joy of one lucky winner who makes it all the way to a starring role on The WB! From Telepictures with executive producer Jamie Kennedy (The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, Malibu’s Most Wanted) and co-executive producers Scott Einziger (Amazing Race 2 & 3, The Howard Stern Show), Josh Etting (The Jamie Kennedy Experiment) and Ellen Rapoport (co-author of the book Wannabes).

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