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Nets Wrestle for Hot Reality Shows

Mar 2, 2008  •  Post A Comment

While scripted series may be returning to TV with the resolution of the Writers Guild of America strike, the networks haven’t given up on reality shows.
The proliferation and ratings success of unscripted shows during the recent strike has prompted a bolstered roster of network reality programs for the summer and fall.
Already emerging as potential tentpole programming in network lineups are wrestling, with “WWE Smackdown” heading to MyNetworkTV in the fall; mixed martial arts, snared last week by CBS; a new Tyra Banks- and Ashton Kutcher-produced unscripted show at ABC, and a reality series being developed for NBC entitled “I Can Do That.”
“One of the negatives for the writers in going on strike is that there was a lot of reality programming on the air, a lot of which worked,” said Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television. “It was a gamble they took and we’ll now see a lot of those series coming back and taking up time periods next fall, especially because there is no real pilot season this year.”
“I Can Do That” is the first show in NBC’s three-year, first-look deal with BermanBraun, signed last year. The project, described as a combination of “Fear Factor” and “The Amazing Race,” is currently being cast. NBC would not comment on development of the show.
In December, NBC inked a three-series deal with “Deadliest Catch” creator Thom Beers and producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun in which the network agreed to greenlight three hourlong action-adventure reality series to run in a programming block. With at least 10 episodes of each of the three series set, the deal brings the network’s total on-air commitment to the trio to more than 30 hours in prime time.
Meanwhile, MyNetworkTV, which has moved up in the ratings in recent months with unscripted series such as “Jail,” landed what is likely to be the outlet’s top draw for the fall in “Smackdown.” MyNet’s long-term commitment to World Wrestling Entertainment, which sources say is for two years with a one-year option, quickly dispelled any rumors of the fledgling network’s imminent departure.
MyNet was the victor in a three-way battle with WGN and Sci Fi Channel for rights to The CW’s second-highest rated show.
“It is a huge brand. We’re looking at this the same way Fox did with the NFL,” said Greg Meidel, MyNetworkTV president. “This is a huge entertainment franchise that continues to evolve, and we’re thrilled that it fits the demographic profile of our network. We could not be more excited.”
MyNet will take back two minutes of affiliate ad time to pay for the acquisition, shifting to a 9/5 split for the show, while the channel’s remaining programming will stay at 7/7. Mr. Meidel noted that thus far the affiliates were happy with the deal.
“So far we’ve talked with well over 100 stations, and affiliates are fine with the ad-time split,” Mr. Meidel said. “That additional inventory we are recapturing will go right back into programming, marketing and promotion of our product.” The network plans to continue last year’s practice of visiting ad agencies individually in lieu of a formal upfront presentation.
To top it off, “Smackdown,” which is broadcast in high definition, will help MyNet, which has only occasionally aired series in HD, make the transition to the new standard. Mr. Meidel noted that next season most of the outlet’s product will be aired in HD.
ABC so far has been tight-lipped about details of the series from Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher, which is slated to debut in the fall. The network also picked up five of its reality staples for next season: “Dancing With the Stars,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “Supernanny” and “Wife Swap.” “The Bachelor” also is set for the season.

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