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NBC announces new 'Treasure Hunters' global reality "quest" series


By Reality TV World staff, 03/18/2005 

NBC formally announced Thursday that it has ordered Treasure Hunters, a new ten-episode reality "quest" series that will feature multi-person teams of treasure-hunting contestants traveling the globe and using folklore, fantasy and actual history as clues to solve an intricate puzzle.

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First reported by Daily Variety earlier this month, Treasure Hunters will be executive produced by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz and produced via their Magical Elves production company, the same folks behind the Project Runway and Project Greenlight reality shows airing on NBC's Bravo cable network.

Joining NBC and Magical Elves onTreasure Hunters' production team will be Imagine Television, the television arm of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment, and Madison Road Entertainment, a 2-year-old "branded entertainment" (ie. memorable product placement) marketing firm that's recently begun to branch into producing its own unscripted programming. As a result, the show's credits will list no fewer than seven executive producers, with Imagine's Grazer and David Nevins and Madison Road's Tom Mazza, Danica Krislovich and Jak Severson adding their names to those of Cutforth and Lipsitz.

Similar to Dreamworks Television's involvement with Mark Burnett's The Contender, the move makes Imagine Television the latest scripted production company to adopt a "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude and partner its way into the world of reality television.

"I can't wait to get started," said Nevins. "We thought a lot about what Imagine might bring to the reality television arena, and we think that with this idea and the terrific production team that has been assembled, we will be able to create an exciting event series." "Madison Road and Imagine Television partnered to raise the bar in reality TV," added a pretentious-sounding Mazza.

While Treasure Hunters' global format will no doubt evoke comparisons to The Amazing Race, the long-running CBS series that has only recently become a mainstream hit, NBC says that unlike The Amazing Race, Treasure Hunters will focus on the solving of its puzzle rather than the race itself -- a description that would appear to make the series a reality version of 2004's National Treasure hit film that starred Nicolas Cage (and like The Amazing Race, was also produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.)

"It's inspired by the success of books like The Da Vinci Code," NBC Universal Cable Entertainment & Cross Network Strategy president Jeff Gaspin told Variety. Making the show sound perhaps more similar to ABC's The Mole, another modestly-received "first generation" reality series that unlike The Amazing Race, limped through several editions before eventually succumbing to low ratings, Gaspin explained how the puzzle will be the show's focus. "As opposed to focusing on the race, the show will focus on solving the puzzle," he said. "The challenge will come as they try to put the puzzle together."

Billed as "the smartest show on television" during its run, The Mole nonetheless struggled to attract viewers, with ABC eventually airing two "dumbed down" celebrity editions in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to broaden its audience. Seemingly undeterred by ABC's experience, Gaspin promises a mystery that will apparently be even more complex than those of The Mole.

"We'll use iconic locations, with a mixture of real history and folklore along with our own fantasy elements we use to create this puzzle," Gaspin told the trade paper. "It's vital to have a puzzle with complexity, so that in addition to their own brainpower, contestants will have to use the Internet and library as resources for research."

Treasure Hunters will also feature an "online component" that will also allow web-savvy viewers to get involved with the show -- a concept that also conjures up memories of another unsuccessful ABC series, Fall 2002's Push, Nevada.

Billed as a "next-generation twist on reality television" when it premiered, Push, Nevada was executive produced by original Project Greenlight team of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Sean Bailey and Chris Moore (via their LivePlanet company, which starting with Project Greenlight 2, began teaming with Magical Elves to produce the show.) A scripted mystery series with interactive web elements that included the awarding of a $1,045,000 cash prize to its viewer winner, Push had evolved from what was originally envisioned as a fugitive-style reality project entitled The Runner. Never produced due to post-September 11 security and safety concerns, The Runner was to feature a single contestant travelling the country attempting to accomplish eight real world missions while avoiding "capture" by prize-seeking viewers.

Critically-acclaimed but poorly viewed, Push, Nevada ended up airing only seven episodes before being canceled.

According to Variety, it might not take long to discover if NBC (and Magical Elves) can succeed where ABC (and Magical Elves' LivePlanet associates) failed. While NBC has not yet released a broadcast date for the series, Variety reports that Treasure Hunters could premiere as early as late August.

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