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Sony Serious About Reality

Jun 23, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Sony Pictures Television has ramped up its reality series slate, making pacts for new shows with actor Jay Thomas, producer Endemol, “Change of Heart’s” Scott St. John and former E! personality Jules Asner.
The slate is aimed at a variety of outlets in syndication, cable and network, and could go a long way toward proving wrong the naysayers who said the company-with its lack of station groups and “mainstream” cable outlets and its vow nearly two years ago to be very selective about producing prime-time series-was no longer a heavyweight in the development game.
Now boasting a mantra to develop a “balanced portfolio,” Sony Pictures Television is developing at least five new shows in the reality genre that could air in 2004.
Included in its plans is the launch of long-in-the-works “eBay TV” next year.
The slate could air on network TV, in syndication or on cable as part of the studio’s strategy of filling gaps for any and all entertainment destinations, according to Sony executives,.

“In the whole television business we believe in a balanced portfolio approach,” said Russ Krasnoff, president of programming and production at Sony Pictures Television. “Whether its daytime, access, prime time, late-night, animation, soaps, game, talk, reality, comedies, drama, etc., we balance ourselves in all of these categories, and we like that.”
Jay Thomas, who appeared last year in “The Santa Clause 2,” has been tapped to host upcoming game show “The Enemy Within.” The show’s premise is that one player in the Q&A series has been told all the answers to the questions beforehand. The object is for the enemy to fool the other contestants while they try to figure out who the plant is.
“Jay Thomas is so well known and has a natural sense of humor and spontaneity,” said Melanie Chilek, senior VP of reality programming at Sony Pictures Television. “One of the things that made it fantastic is that Jay doesn’t know who the enemy is, so he can enjoy it and participate as well.”
The series will be executive produced by “Pyramid’s” Stephen Brown.
Executives think the project could go in anywhere from prime time to syndication to cable.
“Our development is geared toward finding what the best show is, not just slapping some stuff down and seeing what sticks,” Ms. Chilek said. “We find very often that what we think is a five-a-week show in syndication may actually click better once a week on broadcast or vice versa.”
For an example she points to “Shipmates,” a sophomore relationship strip leaving syndication this fall. “Shipmates” now looks to be heading toward a long-term cable run, again airing five days a week in originals. Sony is talking to cable networks.
“Cable is perfect for the show,” said Mr. Krasnoff, who said he looked forward to running and promoting the show in an environment where it airs in the same place and same time across the country.
“Posers,” from “Change of Heart” and “Street Smarts” producer Scott St. John is aimed at the syndication realm. The series will feature a single person looking for the ideal mate. That person must then date multiple matches, with one of them posing as the perfect person.
Sony has also entered an agreement with Endemol for intervention-themed “Wake-Up Call,” now contemplated as a strip. The series will combine studio and field elements as the friend of someone with a problem, e.g. womanizing, arranges to confront the friend about his or her problem and get the person help.
Asner Reality Project
Finally, Sony is working on a reality project with Jules Asner, which some insiders describe as reality with a hint of “The View.” Sony executives would not comment, however, on the series.
Those projects will now join “eBay TV” on the front burner for the 2004 season. “eBay TV” has been fine-tuned due to problems arising from the complicated nature of the project, which hindered the series from obtaining the necessary clearances for a launch this year. However, Sony executives insist the series will be front and center for the 2004 season.
“The marketplace is more and more often asking for pilots whereas we had only been able to compile a sales presentation tape earlier in the year,” Mr. Krasnoff said. “So now we’re going and shooting additional material that will comprise an actual episode of `eBay TV’ and from what I understand stations are listening.”
One veteran series that remains a staple for the company is “Ricki Lake.” Recent news that the namesake host would be relocating to Los Angeles from New York, where the show is set, sent rumors flying that the talk show was nearing an end after this season.
“You’d think those people would have heard of airfare by now,” Mr. Krasnoff said. “I honestly don’t anticipate that her move will have any affect on the show. `Ricki’ will be around for a long time to come.”