Truth or dare: NBC likes Madonna

Oct 15, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Hot on NBC’s development slate is a new reality series, “Truth or Dare,” from Madonna’s Maverick Productions.
NBC reality guru Jeff Gaspin is also making an initial commitment to another push-the-envelope pilot, “Threesome.”
Just as NBC has altered conventional wisdom about the appeal of reality series to upper-income demographics (those commonly associated with the network’s scripted series), Mr. Gaspin’s reality department is gravitating toward big names like Madonna’s Maverick Productions, which is pitching “Truth or Dare” as a draw to young, upscale demos. And it is anyone’s guess just how the salacious-sounding “Threesome”-a working title that conjures memories of UPN’s short-lived “Chains of Love”-will fare with upper-income viewers.
“All I can say is that it’s not anything like `Chains of Love,”’ said Howard Schultz, who is set to develop and executive produce the “Threesome” and “Truth or Dare” projects. “This is a highly competitive space and I’m not going to get specific with details [on “Threesome”], but I can say it is going to be a relationship show that is going to be within the bounds of what is acceptable in the broadcast universe.”
Mr. Schultz speaks from experience as a veteran romance-oriented show producer who appears to share in Mr. Gaspin’s belief that romance-based reality series like Fox’s “Temptation Island” can indeed be a strong draw in the 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 demographics.
Having built his career on romance/reality over the past dozen years with such memorable shows as “Studs,” “The Big Date” and “Sex Wars,” Mr. Schultz ended up carrying enough weight to convince NBC to make initial commitments on “Threesome” and “Truth or Dare.” Getting NBC onboard for both romance projects marks a significant turnaround for the network, which passed “Chains of Love” to UPN more than a year ago.
“Right now, [“Threesome” and “Truth or Dare”] are just initial pilot commitments and not formal [series] pickups and are among other projects we have in development,” said Mr. Gaspin, whose formal title is NBC executive vice president of alternative series and long-form program strategy. “But it’s safe to say we’re comfortable in considering these as possible summer 2002 entries.”
“Absolutely, it was very clear to us with the big summer that NBC had with `Fear Factor’ and `Spy TV’ that we’re very comfortable to be talking preliminarily about similar launch strategy for our shows,” Mr. Schultz added. In fact, while Mr. Gaspin, who joined NBC Entertainment in March 2001 after serving as head of alternative programming at Viacom’s VH1 and MTV Networks, is said to have significantly ramped up development, he also has been selective on certain projects. Recently it was rumored in talent agency circles that NBC picked up a reality version of “Fantasy Island,” but Mr. Gaspin said NBC passed on the project. “We couldn’t come to terms [with series producer Columbia TriStar], and it has come and gone,” Mr. Gaspin said flatly.
What he did say grabbed his attention was the pitch for “Truth or Dare” from Mr. Schultz and Guy Oseary, the latter of whom is partnered with Madonna in Maverick Entertainment Group. Originally, the pair had been developing “Truth or Dare,” which takes its name from Madonna’s cultish 1991 documentary, as a potential syndication project more than three years ago with now-defunct PolyGram Television (which was sold to Universal Entertainment Group).
Mr. Schultz said the version of “Truth or Dare” being developed for NBC is “vastly different” from the syndicated version previously in development. Much of the original formatting of the show dealt with the “parlor game” version of “Truth or Dare,” in which contestants compete for cash by daring each other to answer revealing questions.
“The original show covered a lot of those bases and we will go into that aspect soon. … But we’ve still got to get through the development of `Threesome’ first,” Mr. Schultz said.
As with “Truth or Dare,” Mr. Schultz’s Lighthearted Entertainment production company is co-developing and co-producing the series with NBC Studios, which is led by President Ted Harbert and Cheryl Dollins, the unit’s vice president of prime-time series.
“Jeff [Gaspin], Ted and Cheryl have been very involved from the time we first pitched the projects three months ago,” Mr. Schultz said. “We find it gratifying that they have been in this [reality] space for some time and instinctively know what works and what doesn’t.”