Affleck and Damon `Push’ TV envelope

Jun 11, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Under their own fledgling LivePlanet production banner, Academy Award-winning screenwriters Ben Affleck and Matt Damon feel they are on the verge of building a better new media mousetrap.
LivePlanet is developing “Push, Nevada,” a new media murder mystery, with Touchstone Television and ABC, and “The Runner,” which has been billed as one of the most expensive and Internet-intensive reality-based series to be mounted on a broadcast network. “The Runner” will debut in January 2002 on ABC, while “Push, Nevada” is in development for midseason 2002 or fall 2002.
Keith Quinn, vice president of marketing for LivePlanet, emphasized that “Push, Nevada” should not be categorized as a “gimmick-laden” interactive- or Internet-based vanity project.
“What we are talking about is not about interactive or enhanced television, not something where viewers will have to watch TV and be on the PC at the same time,” Mr. Quinn said. “Instead, we see `Push, Nevada’ as a scripted drama using ABC’s broadcast platform, then using it as an opportunity to offer enriching and compelling Internet applications to drive interest in the program.”
Viewers of the series will be able to go to a “Push, Nevada”-themed Web site for clues to the faux murder mystery and treasure hunt prizes.
Unlike many of the recently failed dot-com content companies, LivePlanet is intent on developing mass-appeal programming for traditional media-by gaining financing/distribution partners in Touchstone, ABC and Miramax-to build an ancillary market gateway for other new media content.
“ABC and Touchstone are willing to participate in this cross-platform show because they do have a wealth of experience in this space,” said Mr. Quinn, referring to ABC’s Enhanced TV versions of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Mole.”
“It is all about offering a compelling and enriching viewing experience, whether it be in the traditional or new media space.”
At its core, Mr. Quinn said “Push, Nevada” is a murder mystery that “uses the world as its stage,” with actors being placed in “real-world settings,” and which will have viewers and online PC users trying to guess the location of treasures or clues to the identity of a murderer.
“The thrill of doing a closed-ended, scripted murder mystery like this is that we are looking to creatively intersect elements of `America’s Most Wanted,’ `The X-Files’ and `Twin Peaks,’ but where viewers don’t really notice immediately that they’re being sucked into a fictitious drama,” Mr. Quinn said.
“For those viewers who do like the `lean forward’ aspect of the Internet, we could offer streaming audio where [we] have two characters clandestinely talking over the phone about aspects of the murder, leaving clues-either dubious or factual-that PC users would have to discern to figure out which trail to follow. However, there is still a large number of viewers who still prefer the `lean back’ appeal of TV, and we’re still going to make the clues as easy to follow through traditional forms of media.”
Creation of the story treatment, bible and pilot for “Push, Nevada” is being done by Sean Bailey, a LivePlanet partner and its chief creative officer, and Mr. Affleck.
Although LivePlanet has an exclusive motion picture production deal with Disney-owned Miramax Films, Mr. Quinn said that Mr. Affleck and Mr. Bailey pitched “Push, Nevada” around town, with ABC and its sister studio Touchstone Television showing the most interest.
“It will be quite difficult to mount as a project, and the lead time could be pretty daunting, but it is one of the most nontraditional scripted projects we’ve ever had in development here,” said Stephen McPherson, executive vice president of Touchstone Television. “In some ways, `Push, Nevada’ has similar puzzle-solving and Internet tie-ins in what we’ve got planned together with `The Runner,’ which made it all the more the reason we wanted to be in business with these guys. Their fresh approach to all forms of media and overall brilliance made it the reason we want to be involved in both these series.”
Crafting “Push, Nevada” as a scripted, controlled mystery series over broadcast TV and the Web may appear to be a novel concept, but it probably is not entirely unprecedented.
Fox has drawn up plans to premiere this summer a semi-scripted reality/mystery series called “Murder in Smalltown X,” in which 10 contestants will follow the trail of a faux serial murder while getting clues from both actual townspeople and hired actors.
Spokesmen for Fox and series producer Fox Television Studios said the series will involve some sort of Internet-based clue elements, but said it is still too early for online executives at Fox.com to discuss preliminary development plans. Similar to “Push, Nevada,” which still has a development pilot commitment with ABC, Touchstone is serving as a financing and distribution partner with LivePlanet in “The Runner.” Considered to be a mammoth undertaking in terms of being a live manhunt series set across the United States, the production was cited by sources in a recent TV Guide article as having a production budget at more than $2 million per episode-though neither Mr. McPherson nor Mr. Quinn would comment on the budget figures.
Online elements of “The Runner,” which sources say LivePlanet is directing creatively with executives at ABC.com and Walt Disney Internet Group, could similarly include video and audio streaming components to offer hints on the fugitive runners’ whereabouts.
“The Runner,” which could have as many as a dozen fugitives on the lam during the 13-episode series, will be produced for the Internet on a “real time basis” 24 hours a day, Mr. Quinn said.
“There has to be a heavy Internet quotient to `The Runner,’ because the trackers are going to be almost entirely dependent on getting online clues about the location of the runner,” he said.