Stone Stanley rolling: “Mole” disappears/reappears

Nov 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

What a difference one summer and some promotion can make.
During fall 2001, ABC suddenly yanked “The Mole II” from its airwaves after three episodes-the first time in history a network pulled a reality game show off the air in mid-run. The series suffered from lack of promotion, according to ABC insiders, as well as scheduling difficulties on Fridays after the tragedy of 9/11.
What had been ABC’s top overall series among adults 18 to 34 a season before now averaged a meager 2.2 Nielsen Media Research rating among adults 18 to 49, finishing fourth in its time period.
Fast-forward nine months: A well-hyped relaunch of the reality skein was grabbing attention and “The Mole” was scoring ABC’s top numbers of any entertainment series to air during the summer, despite airing opposite Fox’s breakout “American Idol.” The network soon was ordering more “Mole” for its programming slate.
“The press didn’t believe it was going [to come] back,” said Scott Stone, partner and co-founder of Stone Stanley Entertainment, the brawn behind “The Mole” and a slew of other reality series. “But we believed in the show, as did ABC. We both wanted to wait until the right place and right time was available and, sure enough, when summer came we landed in a great time period. We’re now set to air `Celebrity Mole’ this spring.”
The upcoming version of the series will feature “Spin City” co-star Michael Boatman, “L.A. Law” vet Corbin Bernsen, “Living Single” regular Kim Coles and “Dinotopia” thesp Erik von Detten along with Stephen Baldwin, Kathy Griffin and model Frederique. Ahmad Rashad replaces Anderson Cooper as host, and the series will be shot entirely in Hawaii. The series could debut as early as January.
“I like to say that if it were never again on a network’s fall schedule I would be fine with that,” said David Stanley, partner and co-founder of the company. “The networks are naturally going to tout the sitcoms and dramas gearing up for the fall, particularly if they own a piece of them, but in the end the success rate of those series isn’t exactly ideal, particularly given their budgets. I don’t care how creative a lineup may be, in the end some are going to get canceled, and networks simply don’t have enough money to replace all of them with new sitcoms and dramas.”
Stone Stanley Entertainment has made a name for itself by finding cracks in an era of consolidation and making the most of those opportunities. Currently, the self-proclaimed mini-studio boasts a diversified portfolio of series catering to everything from network programming to syndication to both large and small cable outlets. While “The Mole” may be the highest-profile series produced by the company, “The Man Show” on Comedy Central has consistently been the network’s second-highest-rated show behind “South Park.” Although Jimmy Kimmel has left the show for his own late-night series on ABC, Stone Stanley is looking for a way to bring the series back, especially with 96 episodes in the can and a possibility of off-cable syndication in the air.
Also on the air are “Oblivious,” which was TNN’s highest debut ever for an entertainment series; the immortal “Shop ‘Til You Drop,” now on Pax; “Legends of the Hidden Temple” on Nickelodeon Games and Sports; “Animal Pranksters” on Animal Planet; and the upcoming “Dream Team With Annabelle and Michael” on Sci-Fi Channel.
Stone Stanley’s production slate is poised to expand even more over the next few months. The company is teaming with Richard Donner on “Real Deal” for the Game Show Network. In addition, the company is looking to shake up syndication by partnering with Tribune on game show strip “Jumble,” and is currently developing reality series “Magic 8-Ball” and “Gravediggers.”
The company just concluded a deal with Eytan Keller, who once served as executive VP of alternative programming and specials for Fox Family Channel, for his producing services and a first-look deal on all projects emanating from his production company, Keller Productions. Mr. Keller’s first role at Stone Stanley Entertainment will be to serve as co-executive producer for the celebrity version of “The Mole.”
“I think when you look at the way the business has evolved and independents are an endangered species, it’s unique to find an independent that not only is surviving but diversifying,” Mr. Keller said. “Today, more than at any other time, a company needs to be able to produce and have in development three times as many projects as in the past if they want to succeed. That’s what I saw in this deal, an opportunity to create a very powerful synergy between our companies and optimize their ability to make a quarter look like $10 in the cable world.”
In a post-fin-syn industry marked by increased consolidation, Mr. Stone and Mr. Stanley have seen more than a few fellow indies get lost in the mix. In 1990, under the banner Stone Stanley Productions, the duo merged their talents to create “Teen Win Lose or Draw” and “Loveline.” But in 1999, Mr. Stone and Mr. Stanley decided that too many opportunities were passing them by and chose to expand the company, adding an influx of development talent in Comedy Central’s Sharon Levy and VH1’s Eliot Goldberg, among others. The company changed its name to Stone Stanley Entertainment and brought series such as The WB’s “Popstars” to the air.
“Scott and David run things here like a mini-studio in a sense based on the sheer amount of series and number of people we hire,” Ms. Levy said. “However, we don’t have to face any of the bureaucratic nightmares that come with a larger company. We don’t consider networks to be more glamorous than cable and that helps to keep our strategy simple.”
“We make sure to stay grounded,” Mr. Stanley said. “After all, part of the reason we had quick success is because we were able to pick different targets than anyone else was going for and offer them programming perfect for their brand. Now we continue to find opportunities-after all, big studios simply aren’t nimble enough to make a business out of the reality business.”