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`Boot Camp’ hopes to enlist reality fans

Mar 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Hey, you lowly, scrawny plebe, you know nothing about surviving until you’ve tried getting through boot camp!
That is the overriding message Eric Schotz and Bill Paolantonio, the executive producers of “Boot Camp,” want to send to loyal viewers of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” when their new reality/game series launches March 28 on Fox.
Mr. Schotz said “Boot Camp” involves that ritualistic physical and mental torture known as basic training in the military that “everyone associates [with] getting through hell.”
“On `Survivor,’ the contestants get to sit around a lot between challenges,” Mr. Schotz said. “But just imagine having a drill instructor in your face every minute of the day, challenging you to take on the next physical or mental obstacle-that’s what `Boot Camp’ is all about.”
Set to premiere in the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) Wednesday time period previously occupied by Fox’s hit reality series “Temptation Island,” “Boot Camp” will be getting a prime eight-week opportunity-through the critical May sweeps period-to share with viewers the hard realities of initiation into the military.
In this case, though, it is 16 contestants-eight men and eight women-who are under the direction of four U.S. Marine Corps drill instructors (known as DIs) to operate as one unit. Yet each will also be competing for a $500,000 grand prize awarded to the winner and $100,000 to the runner-up.
During a 41/2-week period at Camp Blanding, just west of Jacksonville, Fla., the 16 contestants were put through a constant stream of physical and mental-training challenges, including at least seven elaborately staged military exercises and “recon” missions. “Each episode will feature a wide variety of challenges that are going to severely test the individuals’ and team’s physical and mental endurance,” said Mr. Schotz, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based LMNO Productions. He and Mr. Paolantonio, who is LMNO’s executive vice president of creative affairs, created the format for “Boot Camp” based on a title originally developed by co-producer Granada Television of the United Kingdom.
A quick visit to “Boot Camp’s” elaborate Web site (TVBootCamp.com, which is also linked through Fox.com), also provides “classified,” top secret-style hints to military exercises in the show. Mr. Schotz and Mr. Paolantonio have also added some interesting twists to the standard basic-training formula. During each episode, the contestants must pick a leader for their squad who will be responsible for the success or failure of each mission.
Should the mission be successful, the leader gets immunity and the team gets a reward (such as an extra hour of sleep, which is very precious in the dawn-to-dusk boot-camp environment). Progressively, as the game continues, prizes improve and punishments become more severe, Mr. Schotz said. Conversely, if the mission fails, the squad leader is “dismissed,” as Mr. Paolantonio puts it. In another twist, the banished squad leader can randomly select one other team member to be “discharged” from the camp.
“What the discharge adds is another dramatic element, where the team leader may be entwined in an alliance with other squad members to remove another contestant from the game,” Mr. Schotz said. “These [reality] shows are about telling stories, crossing over to be more like a drama. Anyone who has been in the military and lived through a boot camp, or anyone else who has been exposed to military dramas in the movies, will really relate well to the dramatic story lines and arcs of this show.”
Going into the final episode of “Boot Camp,” two contestants remain to compete in a competition Mr. Schotz called “The Gauntlet.” He chose not disclose details of the final event, describing it only as a “48-hour mental and physical marathon” in which the finalists are subjected to greater sleep deprivation than in the previous episodes.
As to the series’ production budget-for a reality series the cost typically runs from $250,000 to $500,000 per episode-Mr. Schotz only hinted that it is “in the quality and cost range of what was spent” on CBS’s “Survivor II.” The on-site production contingent, he said, included 10 camera crews, an airborne helicopter crew, a full-time Wes Cam crew (for Internet video streaming) and about 120 total production staffers.
Mr. Schotz said LMNO is planning to utilize part of its 1,000 hours of taped footage for streaming exclusively on the Web. “We’re going to treat it like the release of classified information, providing some riddles, and to enhance viewing of the program,” he said.
Owing to advance promotion on Fox and the involvement of Fox affiliates around the country (which participated in tryouts for over 8,000 applicants), the “Boot Camp” producers have high hopes riding on the Wednesday slot. In the same slot during the February sweeps, “Temptation Island” posted an 11.5 rating/27 share in the adults 18 to 34 demographic-even edging out “Survivor II” (11.2/29) in the key demo.
“Yeah, I would love to do close to those numbers, but we have to remember we are competing against [NBC’s] `West Wing,”’ Mr. Schotz said. “However, more than 80 percent of the available [TV] audience is still not watching what is regarded as drama on television [`The West Wing’], so if we got 40 percent of that, I’d be ecstatic.”