Reality producer Mark Burnett planning new 'Giving Hope' reality series
By Reality TV World staff, 04/26/2005
Apparently looking to capture a piece of the growing "feel good" reality programming niche for himself, reality TV uber-producer Mark Burnett has announced plans for his own Giving Hope unscripted aspirational series.
While the show concept has not yet been pitched to any prospective networks, Burnett told the Hollywood Reporter that the project would be loosely inspired by the long-running Touched By An Angel CBS drama in which actress Roma Downey, his girlfriend of the last several years, previously starred. Additionally, according to Burnett, the similarities between Giving Hope and Touched By An Angel might extend beyond their base concepts, with the producer also eyeing Downey and her former Angel co-star Della Reese as possible participants in the show.
"It's an unscripted show that will be about bringing hope to people," Burnett told the trade paper. "It will be about people in Kansas who have lost their farm and helping get them back on their feet." "We might profile people under a mountain of medical bills and finding ways to get them out from under it. That's what we'll be looking at -- providing hope and changing lives," he added.
Fueled by the ratings success of the subgenre's initial wave of programming, many producers and networks consider so-called "aspirational" reality shows to be the next big thing in reality programming (as opposed to say, reality-dating shows.)
While smash hit scripted series Desperate Housewives and Lost have gotten most of credit for ABC's ratings resurrection, the second season growth of "feel good" pioneer Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and its freshman Wife Swap and Supernanny series have also contributed significantly to the network's strong resurgence. Combined with the surprisingly strong ratings performance of NBC's The Biggest Loser -- a program not even on NBC's original Fall 2004 schedule -- the shows' success has the copycat television industry scrambling to create new similarly themed shows, with both ABC and NBC even scheduling Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and The Biggest Loser spinoffs.
The Casino, Burnett's highly-touted Summer 2004 series, also met a similar fate. Consisting of thirteen hour long episodes, the series followed the adventures of "dotcom" millionaires Timothy Poster and Thomas Breitling as they purchased and attempted to revitalize the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Similarly, Poster and Breitling's commitment to revitalizing the Golden Nugget also didn't last very long, with the duo selling the casino to Houston-based Landry's Restaurants Inc. less than six months after The Casino ended its broadcast run.
In addition to Burnett's Giving Hope, network broadcasters have recently announced plans for several new "feel good" reality concepts. Beyond its Extreme Makeover: Home Edition - How'd They Do That? and Extreme Makeover: Wedding Edition spinoffs and numerous Wife Swap specials (Boss Swap, Vacation Swap, etc.), ABC has also reportedly ordered six episodes of Miracle Workers. Produced by DreamWorks Television (the same Hollywood studio that, in an interesting twist, is also one of Burnett's The Contender partners) and Renegade 83 Entertainment, Miracle Workers will feature a recurring "dream team" of physicians that will bring medical care to the sick.
With its sleazy projects like Who's Your Daddy? now increasingly failing to draw viewers, Fox has also jumped on the "feel good" bandwagon that it first encountered via its Nanny 911 and Trading Spousescopycats of ABC's reality concepts. In March, the network placed an initial order for four episodes of Who Wants to Live Forever?, an intervention-like show in which a team of doctors will attempt to make life-lengthening changes to the lifestyle habits of the show's participants.
"It's not just about physical changes. If you're constantly fighting with your sister-in-law, we'll say you have to stop," Fox reality chief Mike Darnell told Daily Variety. "There'll be that sense of really improving your life, not just winning the game," explained Darnell.
NBC is also planning an additional aspirational show of its own -- Three Wishes. Announced last month, Three Wishes was created by Average Joe producers Andrew Glassman and Jason Raff will be hosted by Grammy-winning artist Amy Grant. While it will initially debut as a one-time special, if successful, the special will serve as the basis for an ongoing regular series.
"Everyone secretly wants the chance to fulfill a lifelong wish that seems beyond their grasp -- and this show will help transform those dreams into a life-changing reality," stated NBC executive Jeff Gaspin in the network's announcement.
Of course, if one listens to Burnett, Giving Hope would actually mark his second foray into aspirational programming -- with The Apprentice being the first. "This is an intelligent franchise that deals with real workplace business problems that's totally 'aspirational' for millions of people in America who want to make it." he told reporters during a February conference call that announced NBC's plans for a Martha Stewart edition of The Apprentice.