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A New ‘Life’ for ABC

Aug 29, 2005  •  Post A Comment

ABC is going for reality nostalgia with a remake of one of television’s oldest reality series: “This Is Your Life.”

The network is finalizing a deal for a six-episode order for “Life” from Fox TV Studios, which is developing the series with help from the family of Ralph Edwards, who created and hosted the first evolution of “Life” as a radio program beginning in 1948.

Traditionally, each episode of “Life” surprised either a celebrity or an ordinary person by announcing he or she was the subject of the show. The subjects were then honored with reminiscences from family members and longtime friends. The original run of “Life” honored a number of iconic celebrities, including Dick Clark, Jayne Mansfield, Johnny Cash and Lou Costello. The series featured Ronald Reagan as a guest host.

ABC, which has four reality series scheduled to air in the fall, could use “Life” as a quick fix if any of its new or returning fall series fail to attract viewers.

“Life” fits into ABC’s overall reality brand, which focuses on feel-good life improvement themes-such as those explored in “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Wife Swap”-as opposed to reality series that thrive on competition or that are more mean-spirited.

“We believe ABC is the perfect home for such an iconic brand as ‘This Is Your Life,'” Fox Television Studios Executive VP of Alternative Development Holly Jacobs said in a statement. “The spirit of our show is celebration as we honor the life and work of some very special people.”

The show also could tap into some of the celebrity appeal ABC’s summer reality series phenomenon “Dancing With the Stars” proved to have. “Dancing,” which featured B-list television and music personalities, was a hit with viewers and helped regenerate the career of one contestant in particular, actor John O’Hurley.

“The original ‘This Is Your Life’ was more than just one of America’s best-loved television shows, it became a cherished part of the American vernacular,” Andrea Wong, ABC’s executive VP of alternative programming, specials and late-night, said in a release.

ABC and Fox TV Studios are keeping format details for the latest incarnation of “Life” under wraps for now. The companies also declined to reveal when the new show might debut or who will host.

“Life” is being executive produced by Barbara Dunn-Leonard, president of Ralph Edwards Productions; and Gary Edwards, executive VP of the company and the son of Ralph Edwards; along with Mindy Moore, Fred Siegel and Jon Vein.

“We are proud to be one of the first television production companies established in Hollywood and to carry on that tradition by working with ABC and Fox Television Studios,” Ms. Dunn-Leonard and the younger Mr. Edwards said in a joint statement. “We believe ‘This Is Your Life’ will continue to impact TV audiences and maintain its rightful place in the American entertainment culture.”

Life” was first heard as a segment of radio’s “Truth or Consequences” in 1946. It then ran as a radio show from 1948 until 1950. It moved to television in 1952, running on NBC until 1961. The show received Emmy Awards in 1954 and 1955. In 1957 it won a Golden Globe Award. In 1981 David Frost hosted a two-hour special of the show in honor of “Life’s” 30th anniversary.

A short-lived syndicated version appeared in 1983 with Joseph Campanella as host, and in 1993 another NBC “Life” special aired with Pat Sajak as host. In May, 18 episodes of “Life” were released on DVD.

Mr. Edwards, 92, began his career in radio in San Francisco to help pay his way through the University of California. After graduation, he went to New York to work as an announcer for CBS Radio. His first producing venture, the radio version of “Truth or Consequences,” premiered in 1940 and ran for 14 years.

A television version of “Truth” began in 1950, followed by “Life.” In 1956 Mr. Edwards launched the career of Bob Barker, who took over hosting duties on “Truth” from Jack Bailey. Mr. Edwards was also a producer of the original courtroom syndicated series “The People’s Court,” which debuted in 1981 and ran until 1993. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2001 Daytime Emmy Awards.