CBS Ramps Production on Reality, Game Show Pilots

Apr 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

CBS’s alternative programming department is ramping up production on an unprecedented number of reality and game show pilots, including projects hosted by Chris Kattan, Drew Carey, Tucker Carlson and Craig Ferguson.

This month alone, CBS has five game show pilots in production. They include previously unreported titles “Life as a Song” (executive produced by “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” team David Metzler and David Collins, along with veteran producer Neil Meron) and “The Wizard” (executive produced and hosted by CBS’s “Late Late Show” host Mr. Ferguson).

CBS also has added high-profile hosts to its other game show pilots: Ashton Kutcher’s “Game Show in My Head” has hired former “Saturday Night Live” player Mr. Kattan; Michael Davies’ “Power of 10” has tapped actor-comedian Mr. Carey; Phil Gurin’s “Do You Trust Me?” has landed MSNBC conservative talk show host Mr. Carlson.

Combined with the network’s formerly announced reality projects, the slate represents the most unscripted efforts in the history of CBS. The network is joining the general trend toward reality as cost-effective summer original programming; also, unscripted projects are considered valuable insurance against the threat of a Writers Guild of America strike later this year.

Previously, the network largely relied on its twin pillars of “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” to represent the genre. But those veteran reality shows are softening in the ratings, while game shows like NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” and Fox’s “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” have proven to be valuable utility players that can be placed anywhere on the schedule to fill unexpected gaps.

CBS confirmed the pilot projects.

“We have a very active slate, and believe in alternative/reality programming as a key part of a balanced programming lineup,” CBS spokesman Chris Ender said. “But, just as we do with comedy and drama development, we prefer to keep the details and any potential scheduling strategy close to the vest.”

Season-to-date, the network continues to perform strongly, coming in first in total viewers and second to Fox among adults 18 to 49.

Among the new pilots, Mr. Ferguson’s “Wizard” (produced with Jay Renfroe of “The Surreal Life”) will combine a game show with improvisation and scripted comedy elements — a more competitive take on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Musical Moments

In “Song,” people at a crossroads in their lives play out a key moment (a marriage proposal, for example) as an elaborate musical.

Mr. Gurin’s “Do You Trust Me?” has strangers wagering how much they trust each other as they develop a relationship via gameplay.

The concept is loosely based on the classic game-theory experiment “prisoner’s dilemma,” where players weigh cooperation vs. betrayal for differing levels of reward and punishment.

Though Mr. Carlson might seem an unusual choice for a game show, “Trust” host duties include interviewing guests and extracting key information about their motivations and gameplay, tapping into his experience as a talk show host. Also, Mr. Carlson recently waded into prime-time reality as a participant on the fall edition of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Mr. Davis’ “Power of 10” has contestants trying to guess the results of nationwide surveys of five questions, with each answer increasing in value by multiples of 10 — starting with $1,000 and ending up at $10 million. Mr. Carey previously hosted “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

CBS is keeping mum about the details of Mr. Kutcher and Jason Goldberg’s “Game Show in My Head,” which is loosely based on a U.K. concept combining hidden cameras and a game show.

On the reality front, last week CBS confirmed it is developing “Pop Dynasty,” where three members of the Jackson family will judge a singing competition.

This summer, the network also plans the return of “Big Brother” and the debut of Mark Burnett’s “Pirate Master.”