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Cable Preview: Reality Taps Classic Shows

Sep 6, 2004  •  Post A Comment

It cannot be a coincidence that both a first-ever and a second-ever reality re-casting of a vintage sitcom will premiere this fall. But to hear executives tell it, TBS’s “The Real Gilligan’s Island” and VH1’s “In Search of the Partridge Family” sprang up as organically as carrots.

For VH1, “Partridge Family” came from a discussion with “Partridge” rights-holder Sony Pictures Television, which was looking to extend the brand, said Jeff Olde, a VH1 executive producer in charge of the show.

For TBS, “Gilligan” spawned from an internal brainstorming session about how best to mix reality into a sitcom-oriented schedule, said Steve Koonin, executive VP and chief operating officer of TBS and TNT.

Combined with TV Land’s fall “Brady Bunch” marathon and “35th Anniversary Reunion Special,” basic cable will practically have a laugh track by October.

“After eating a bunch of bugs, what are you going to do?” Mr. Olde said. “For this, it’s about what’s comfortable and familiar instead of shocking new heights. And since [remaking a sitcom] has already been done with `The Brady Bunch’ movies and `That ’70s Show,’ this was a great way to venture into new territory.”

One top agent with experience packaging cable reality projects suggested a more cynical reason for the shows.

“It’s fear,” he said. “Fear of taking a chance on original ideas. Nobody’s going to get fired for greenlighting a reality show based on such an established brand, even if it’s a dumb idea.”

Mr. Koonin took issue with that characterization.

“I don’t think it’s creative bankruptcy; it’s the exact opposite,” Mr. Koonin said. “You’ve seen home improvements, you’ve seen makeovers. This is another cycle.”

In fact, Mr. Koonin said he’s sizing up other sitcoms for reality spinoff potential.

“I think this is a fertile area to mine,” he said.