FOX to team with billionaire Richard Branson for their own 'Apprentice'-like series
By Reality TV World staff, 04/01/2004
What's the latest must-have toy for the media-craving billionaire who has everything? Apparently their own reality show. Becoming the latest network to add a billionaire-centered reality show to its schedule, FOX announced today that it has teamed with Richard Branson, the colorful founder of the Virgin Group of Companies, to create a new reality series.
Tentatively titled Branson's Big Adventure, the series will follow the self-made stunt-seeking billionaire as he leads a group of young entrepreneurs on an epic worldwide journey. While the final details of the series are still being worked out, Branson and the contestants will jet to international destinations and relive some of his personal experiences, tackling the types of dilemmas that he feels helped shape him into the businessman that he is today. If the contestants impress Branson with their decisions then it's off to the next stop of their journey -- otherwise it's sayonara, with one contestant being abandoned on the airport tarmac of each spot while the rest of the group jets off to the next adventure.
"We're thrilled to be partners with the world's most dynamic businessman," said FOX Entertainment President Gail Berman in announcing the series. "Richard Branson has managed to build an international corporation and untold wealth while maintaining his adventurous spirit, influencing pop culture, and having a blast the whole time. He undoubtedly has many life lessons to share on this innovative series."
Apparently anticipating criticism that the series would be considered the latest in a series of unoriginal knock-offs of NBC's wildly successful Donald Trump The Apprentice series, Mike Darnell, the network's executive vice president in charge of reality programming, noted "this isn't about selling a glass of lemonade."
While not stating exactly what prize the program's winner will receive, Darnell added that "In six weeks, these people will experience challenges and adventures beyond their wildest imagination. It's not about business acumen; for Branson, it's about finding that one extraordinary individual who has the right stuff to follow in his footsteps."
"I couldn't think of a network that is a better match for the Virgin brand than FOX," said Lori Levin-Hyams, a woman who is identified by FOX as one of the series' executive producers but a woman who apparently just happens to also double as Virgin's vice president of corporate communication. Sounding more excited about the opportunity to broadcast a weekly hour-long promotion of Virgin's wide array of consumer companies than interested in the premise of the show itself, she added "they're aggressive, fearless and take more risks than any other broadcaster." "FOX is the perfect home for this series."
In addition to Branson's Big Adventure, FOX, ABC, and MTV have all recently announced plans for new Apprentice-like series. In February ABC announced plans for The Benefactor, a reality series in which Internet billionaire and NBA owner Mark Cuban will give one million dollars to a lucky contestant. Last month, MTV began casting for The Assistant, a Hollywood-based spin in which contestants will vie for the right to become the assistant to a "major" Hollywood celebrity. Apparently deciding that the only thing better than one Apprentice-like series was two, FOX had already announced plans earlier this week for The Partner, in which a group of recent law school graduates will compete for a position with a major law firm.
Branson, who is one of Britain's best-known entrepreneurs and was knighted by the Prince of Wales in 2000, is known worldwide for his love for high-risk, high-adventure, and world record-breaking attempts.
After founding the hugely successful Virgin Records music label in the 1970s, Branson expanded the Virgin name into "Megastore" retailing, book and software publishing, film and video editing, clubs, travel, hotels, cinemas, financial services, telecommunications, and rail and air transportation.
In 1984 Branson formed Virgin Atlantic Airways and in the last two decades has grown the airline into Britain's second-largest carrier. To promote the Virgin Atlantic name, Branson became involved in a number of high-publicity, record-breaking attempts throughout the 1980s and '90s. In 1986, his boat Virgin Atlantic Challenger II crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest-ever recorded time. A year later he flew the Virgin Atlantic Flyer balloon – the largest ever built – across the Atlantic.
In 1991 Branson's balloon crossed the Pacific from Japan to Canada, breaking all existing records, and he followed that with a number of attempts to circumnavigate the entire world. These were sadly thwarted by bad weather and in 1999 a Swiss team became the first to complete the trip. In 2002 Steve Fossett (Branson's partner for the earlier Virgin Global Challenger balloon project and now the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer) became the first person to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe by balloon. Now the pair are reunited to attempt another great aviation first: a solo, non-stop flight around the world in less than 80 hours.
Branson lives with his wife, Lady Joan Branson, and their two children, Holly and Sam, in London and Oxfordshire, UK.
Branson's Big Adventure was created by Lori Levin-Hyams, Laura Fuest and Tod Dahlke. Richard Branson, Lori Levin-Hyams, Laura Fuest and Tod Dahlke are Executive Producers.