Reveille Sounds Off on Reality Show Pilots

Apr 28, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As it eclipses its one-year anniversary, Universal-based production company Reveille is adding a handful of projects to its slate, including a presentation pilot for FX called Final Minutes.

Among other new projects in the works at the company-a joint-venture between Universal Television Group and former William Morris agent Ben Silverman-are two shows based on British formats and a new project with Magna Global Entertainment. MGE is one of the company’s partners on upcoming NBC series The Restaurant, to be executive produced by Mark Burnett. (See story Page 19).

Reveille was established in March 2002, after Mr. Silverman left the William Morris Agency, where he had packaged such shows as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in the United States. Mr. Silverman’s forte at WMA was importing foreign reality television formats, but his production venture with Universal includes scripted-series development, such as the NBC pilot Coupling, in addition to its roster of reality fare.

The FX pilot is a proposed half-hour reality reenactment anthology series, focused on the actual “final moments of people’s lives,” Mr. Silverman said. It’s a “kind of Sliding Doors,” Mr. Silverman added, referring to the 1998 theatrical film that starred Gwyneth Paltrow in a story about the unexpected workings of fate. It depicts alternate versions of a romance and a career that depend on whether or not Ms. Paltrow’s character catches a particular London train.

In addition to the reenactment aspect Final Minutes will employ home videos of real people.

The Final Minutes concept was created with Robert Bentley and Mark Harris, two of the executive producers of E! Entertainment’s The E! True Hollywood Story.

Here’s the latest on Reveille’s development that has yet to be attached to a network or syndictor:

* In early development at Reveille is The Honey Trap, the latest reality format imported by Mr. Silverman from the United Kingdom. It is based on the British Channel 5 hit, set on Ibiza, Spain, in which attractive young women sweet talk men into doing their most outrageous bidding.

* Reveille is aiming a British morning talk format called Rise, at the syndication market. Also in early development, the project is based on the program Rise, Channel 4’s successor to The Big Breakfast.

* The Magna Global project, like The Restaurant, is an advertiser-oriented series that Mr. Silverman would only characterize as a “big, town-transformation project.” That project is targeted for a fall 2004 debut. Also in early development is yet another joint Reveille-MGE show that would combine scripted and improvisational elements.

* In development but not yet attached to a network is Liar, a 21st century take on To Tell the Truth.

* Perhaps the highest-profile project at Reveille without a network home is The Office, based on the BBC’s droll reality satire. “Everyone’s circling,” Mr. Silverman said of network interest in the series, “but we’re holding back [until development has resulted in a show as special as the original].”

Coupling, a proposed sitcom based on a BBC series of the same name, is one of several projects Reveille does have set up at an outlet. At USA Network, Reveille is developing a new version of Baretta, which is not yet cast. This time, it’s set in Detroit, and will keep the parrot-but lose the well-known song about not doing the crime if you can’t do the time, because the Beastie Boys recently had an updated hit with it-and will give the detective an Eminem-like sidekick. It’s regarded as another “emotional detective” franchise to complement the network’s hit Monk, Mr. Silverman said.

For ABC, there’s Winner Takes All, a reality-game pilot set in Las Vegas. For UPN, there’s Night Thrasher, a hip-hop superhero series in development with Marvel Comics. For Sci-Fi Channel, there are two more Marvel Comics-derived potential series, 1,000 Days, previously known as both Strike Force Morituri and A Thousand Days, and Brother Voodoo.

Reveille produced a Coupling pilot for NBC last fall, but when it “didn’t quite work,” it was recast, its humor was made “more American” and it was reshot, Mr. Silverman said.

The cost of the two half-hour pilots, representing just 44 minutes of videotape, is “well over” $4 million, Mr. Silverman said, more than the entire cost of The Restaurant, his reality series, also for NBC. (See story, Page 19.)

That cost deferential between the two scripted half-hours and the six hours of the reality series is one reason that the networks are tempted by the relatively inexpensive reality genre. But the real pot of advertising dollars and back-end gold is still at the end of the scripted series rainbow.

Coupling, for example, is set in a bar and involves a group of six telegenic young 30-something friends who are, well, perpetually coupling and uncoupling. It’s an obvious contender for the Friends mantle. In fact, in Britain the series is known as “Friends with sex,” and its story lines are known for being risque, even by looser British standards.

“I have three reality shows with [NBC Entertainment President Jeff] Zucker,” Mr. Silverman said. “He doesn’t care about any of them. All he cares about is Coupling.”

The three are The Restaurant, Adrenaline X, two one-off specials that Mr. Silverman characterized as “extreme sports meets Fear Factor, and another project in “nascent development” for the back end of the 2003-04 season that he would only characterize as “oriented around families.” Last week, even as a messenger delivered the just-completed tape of the second Coupling pilot to his midtown Manhattan hotel room, Mr. Silverman quoted an e-mail exchange with Mr. Zucker to prove his point that NBC is “fixated” on finding scripted hits: “He literally writes back,” Mr. Silverman said, “F**k The Restaurant, f**k Adrenaline X. Where’s Coupling?’… I pray he picks it up.”

Coupling has aboard Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue and Beryl Vertue, senior members of the original BBC version’s production team.

The original BBC Coupling airs on BBC America, as does the original Office.