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Fremantle Pitching Web ‘Wedgie’ to TV

Dec 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

“American Idol” producer FremantleMedia North America is betting that it will be the next player to cash in on the Web-to-TV gravy train.
The production company started pitching a new pilot to broadcast and cable networks last week based on its Web property “Atomic Wedgie,” an online and mobile comedy channel that earned nearly 3 million views on MySpace during the last three months.
Fremantle, which has been developing the improv-style comedy since the summer, hasn’t inked a deal yet for the show, but executives expect to have pitched it to six networks by the end of this week. Positioning the new show as improv rather than a scripted series could help bypass the Writers Guild of America strike.
“This is something we had planned in the summer, and we planned it as improv back then [before the strike],” said Steve Tao, senior VP of scripted development at Fremantle. “It has always been planned as borrowing stuff from the Internet show, so strike or no strike, we were going to pitch it as improv.”
Fremantle chose to peddle the show now because the views on MySpace proved there was audience interest. Still, the show’s prospects as a pilot bring to light a host of issues that studios, networks and writers may face in the coming months if the strike continues.
For starters, the show originated on the Internet, and new media is a key area of dispute in the writers’ negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Second, while reality shows are in the clear because they don’t use guild writers, “improv” shows could be a gray area.
Fremantle launched “Atomic Wedgie” as a mobile channel in 2006, featuring a collection of short series such as “Stupid Bar Tricks” and “Secret Girlfriend.” When the MySpace channel debuted this fall and quickly rocketed up in views, Fremantle executives were confident they had a crossover property on their hands.
Maureen Fitzpatrick, Fremantle’s VP of mobile development, and Mr. Tao worked with the creators of “Secret Girlfriend,” the most popular of the “Atomic Wedgie” series with more than one-third of the online views, to adapt the show. They took the concept of the short show—a girl talks directly to the camera as if she is speaking to her boyfriend—and expanded it into a 22-minute comedy.
In the TV pilot, the protagonist boyfriend will remain silent and off-camera, but he will juggle three girls as well as pressure from his slacker buddies about his job. “We have to find relatable characters and stories, but we are borrowing what is obviously working on the Internet,” Mr. Tao said. That means scenes will be faster and shorter, with more of the Internet’s quick-hit style of humor.
TV executives are increasingly interested in Web properties. Earlier this month Bravo ordered a reality pilot featuring William Sledd, host of Web series “Ask a Gay Man,” which runs on Bravo-owned OutZoneTV. Mr. Sledd started on YouTube. Newsmagazine “Extra” features two segments a week from online entertainment network No Good TV.
Also, in November, NBC picked up the Marshall Herskovitz/Ed Zwick Internet drama “Quarterlife” as a midseason replacement.
Because the show was independently financed for the Web, the creators were able to stay clear of strike issues.
Mr. Tao believes “Atomic Wedgie” falls into the same camp. “A lot of this material was created on the Internet. So we have created characters and storylines that were already there in a non-union capacity, so they are not part of the WGA stuff,” he said.
In its TV incarnation, producers, rather than writers will help craft the setups and situations for each episode. “It’s similar to a reality show in that it doesn’t feature guild writers,” he said
But such terms seem like semantics to the Writers Guild, said Gregg Mitchell, spokesman for the WGA West. “In talking about improv, it’s a case-by-case because each show is different. I would say the issue is: Are our members providing writing services?”
Mr. Tao said if a network wants to develop “Secret Girlfriend” as a scripted show, then the show would absolutely use guild writers.
The WGA and Fremantle are not on the best of terms. Earlier this month, WGA members protested outside Fremantle’s headquarters in Burbank, Calif., because the guild has been trying to organize Fremantle’s reality shows into guild shows.
Even shows that originate on the Web face thorny issues if they make the jump to TV, said Jordan Levin, founding partner with Generate, a new-media online production shop and talent management firm. He said his clients are focusing primarily on the Web right now, and he is holding back on making crossover deals until the strike is settled.
“There isn’t enough original Web content that is high-profile enough to choose from that is going to overcome guild issues and be strike-proof,” Mr. Levin said.

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