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Jan 18, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Amish Youth to Star in UPN Reality Show UPN is developing a reality series that will follow five young Amish people through the Amish rite of passage called rumspringa. During this religious tradition, young Amish men and women leave their sheltered community for a set period of time to live in the outside world and then decide whether they want to go back and join the Amish church or live in the mainstream world.

The Amish young people, who will be between the ages of 16 and 20, will live in a major city in a house with five young adults from the mainstream world. The show, from Stick Figure Productions and New Line Television, is still untitled, but UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff described it as “Amish in the City.”

When the show was announced Sunday at UPN’s portion of the press tour, comparisons to CBS’s stalled effort to develop a reality version of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” which created a furor led by the Center for Rural Strategies, were inevitable.

CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves assured critics that the show is meant to be a “fish out of water” scenario and will be respectful of the Amish people. “This is not intended to be insulting to the Amish, but to have people who have never had television who will walk down Rodeo Drive and be freaked out by what they see,” he said. “This will not be denigrating in any way.”

However, critics were skeptical about the potential for insensitivity and emotional cruelty in the show. At the end of rumspringa, if a young person chooses to leave the Amish community, he or she is shunned by the family and cut out of family members’ lives. While the Amish person may have enjoyed living a fabulous-and free-existence thanks to UPN, what happens to that person when the show is over isn’t likely to be as fabulous.

Mr. Moonves admitted casting the show would be tough and said the producers would hire Amish advisers “if we can find them.” The show wouldn’t be a competition but there most likely will be certain planned events or experiences that happen in each hour-long episode.

Executive producers on the show are Jon Kroll (“Amazing Race” and “Big Brother”) and Daniel Laikind and Steven Canton, who together produced a documentary on rumspringa called “Devil’s Playground.”

Also at press tour, Mr. Moonves and Ms. Ostroff said UPN has made progress this year by launching three hits (“Eve,” “All of Us” and “America’s Next Top Model”), improving the flow between Monday and Tuesday nights and by attracting A-List talent such as Samuel L. Jackson, Mel Gibson, Queen Latifah and Kate Hudson, who all have projects in development with UPN this year.

The network has also seen substantial advertising support, having had its best upfront ever in May, and affiliate support, Mr. Moonves said. Fox-owned affiliates recently reupped their deal with UPN, even though they are currently involved in a legal dispute with UPN over money they feel they are owed.

“Despite the fact that they are still suing us for $100 million, our relationship couldn’t be better,” Mr. Moonves said.

With Tuesday working with comedies and “Top Model” (which hasn’t been officially ordered yet for another season, but is a lock to come back next year), UPN’s next goal is to improve Wednesday night, Mr. Moonves and Ms. Ostroff said.

Midseason animated sitcom “Game Over” hasn’t been scheduled yet, but it is a likely candidate for Wednesdays following “Enterprise.”

Mr. Moonves said it is a possibility that pilots developed for CBS could end up on UPN if they are the appropriate fit, given the lack of holes in CBS’s schedule.

In other news from UPN:

— UPN is developing a reality show called “The Player.” The one-hour relationship show will follow a group of self-described “players” as they compete to see who is the ultimate player.

— UPN renewed “WWE Smackdown!” UPN officials wouldn’t comment on the length of the deal, but it is most likely for multiple years.

— During a session on “America’s Next Top Model,” executive producer and supermodel Tyra Banks announced that she is pursuing a singing career and that a music video for her first single will debut on “Top Model.” The girls in the show will appear in her video.