Fox First: Reality Soap Opera

Dec 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Fox has found a reality promised land: Eden.
The network has ordered 25 hour-long episodes of “Forever Eden,” a new reality series from the producers of its summer series “Paradise Hotel.” Fox plans initially to air the show once a week, starting in midseason. However, the network will have the flexibility to air the show more than once a week since it has a continuous shooting schedule.
Like “Paradise Hotel,” “Forever Eden” will send a group of single men and women to a luxurious resort to live together. But unlike “Paradise Hotel,” “Eden” could continue indefinitely.
“After doing `Paradise Hotel’ last summer we realized there was something to men and women trapped in one place, no matter how exotic or beautiful. It seems to cause a certain amount of strife and dysfunction,” said Mike Darnell, Fox’s head of alternative programming. “After a certain while dementia sets in, leading us to this idea: How long could you take living in paradise-or living in `Eden’ in this case?”
While “Paradise” had a fluid set of rules, it also had an ending.
“We want the audience to know there is a new conceit going on [with `Eden’]. It is truly the first attempt at a continuing reality soap opera,” Mr. Darnell told TelevisionWeek. “It’s the first try of saying, `Don’t go on a reality show; your new life is a reality show.”’
The men and women chosen for the show-whose number has yet to be determined- will have no contact with the outside world once they are at the resort, which will be located outside of the United States. “Eden” will show participants saying goodbye to their families and making their final phone calls before walking away from their old lives.
At different points during the show, new cast members will be added and current cast members will have to leave. Mr. Darnell said they are still working out details about how the additions and subtractions will occur.
The incentive to stay is money. The longer a person stays, the more money he will win. If a participant is asked to leave “Eden,” he gets to keep half of the money he has earned. However, “If you leave of your own volition, [because] you say, `I can’t take it anymore,’ you lose all your money,” Mr. Darnell said.
During the show, there will be ways that a participant will be able to win all the money her or she has earned. “Their stay could be six months,” Mr. Darnell said. “It could be three years. The idea is they are not going on a reality show. They are actually divorcing themselves from their lives. They will become like soap stars, because they are going to be there for what could be a very long time.”
The idea for “Eden” evolved from conversations between Mr. Darnell and the producers of “Paradise Hotel” after that series ended its run last summer.
“We had such an incredible experience with Mike last year doing `Paradise Hotel,”’ said Arthur Smith, executive producer of “Paradise” and “Eden.” “Since that time we have been talking about different types of formats and different types of reality soaps that we can do.”
Fox and the show’s producers are taking other cues from the soap opera world to create drama.
“Even though they are living in luxury and it’s going to be wonderful, we are going to introduce elements to make it not so wonderful,” Mr. Darnell said. “Surprise guests may arrive, who are there to stir things up, who won’t necessarily be members of the cast but could be people from their lives or their past.”
Participants most likely will be able to earn rewards such as a 10-minute phone call home.
While the 25-episode commitment is a hefty one for a brand-new show, Mr. Darnell said Fox executives don’t expect it to hit big immediately as “American Idol” and the first “Joe Millionaire” did.
“The hope is a slow build,” he said. “We’re looking for a way to have something continuous, rather than having to constantly do new editions [of a reality show].”
While “Eden” borrows a bit from “Paradise,” it does not replace it on Fox’s reality development slate. “Paradise Hotel” could still return next summer, Mr. Darnell said.
Mr. Smith said the show contains other unique elements, but declined to reveal specifics for competitive reasons.
“Eden” is being produced by Mentor in association with A. Smith & Co. Executive producers are Arthur Smith and Kent Weed for A. Smith and Tom Gutteridge and Charles Thompson from Mentor.