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ZOO Finds Partnering Profitable

Nov 16, 2008  •  Post A Comment

“Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” producers Barry Poznick and John Stevens are partnering with Larry the Cable Guy for “Dumb Luck,” a comedic game show in which wrong answers don’t always lead to elimination.
“Luck” is one of several new high-profile collaborations for Mr. Poznick and Mr. Stevens’ ZOO Productions. The duo, who teamed with Mark Burnett and Jeff Foxworthy for “5th Grader,” also have projects in the works with former Disney chief Michael Eisner’s Tornante and veteran producer Vin Di Bona (“America’s Funniest Home Videos”).
The partnerships with well-known producers and talent are by design, part of ZOO’s effort to expand beyond its roots in cable. The company’s past and current cable success stories include shows such as “Speeders,” “Speeders Fight Back,” “Girls Behaving Badly” and “Busted.”
Collaborating means ZOO—which was acquired by British conglomerate All 3 Media over the summer—sometimes has to settle for less cash upfront, since potential profits are split among multiple parties. But Mr. Poznick and Mr. Stevens believe the company benefits in the long term.
“We’re not greedy. We’re in this for the long haul,” Mr. Poznick said. “Our M.O. when we team up with someone is that we’re the worker bees on the production side, while our partners manage the networks and (ancillary businesses).”
Mr. Poznick noted that while ZOO came up with the idea for “5th Grader,” Mr. Burnett’s participation is what convinced Fox to order the series.
“We knew that if we went to a network with the idea by ourselves, they’d say to take it to Comedy Central or another cable network,” Mr. Poznick said. “Mark was able to communicate the bigness of the idea and how it would strike a chord with the public.”
Mr. Burnett also has been key in exploiting the licensing possibilities for “5th Grader,” which Mr. Poznick said has grossed more than $40 million from various ancillary offshoots such as board games, books and video games. “Mark is brilliant at making something more than just a TV show,” Mr. Poznick said.
ZOO and Mr. Burnett are currently preparing to bring “5th Grader” to January’s NATPE convention in anticipation of the show’s fall 2009 launch in syndication via Twentieth Television.
While they may see themselves as worker bees, the ZOO guys aren’t just producers for hire. One of the most notable features of the duo’s shared office on the Paramount lot is a giant whiteboard filled with dozens of titles for possible shows.
In the case of “Dumb Luck,” the duo was inspired to work with Larry the Cable Guy—aka Daniel Lawrence Whitney—after the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” comic appeared as a guest on “5th Grader.”
“He has an enormous following and a great brand, and he realized that he could have a great time with a game show,” Mr. Poznick said. “We created a show with his management company, Parallel, that played on the fact that Larry is an expert in nothing. It’s sort of ‘America’s Dumbest Game Show.’”
Specifically, “Dumb Luck” will mix elements of “Deal or No Deal” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” along with heavy doses of comedy. Larry the Cable Guy will host the hourlong, trivia-based show, which will feature a “Millionaire”-like money ladder in which contestants can earn increasingly large amounts of cash. But unlike most shows, “You can get nine out of 10 questions wrong and still win $250,000,” Mr. Poznick said.
“The humor is born out of Larry’s (Southern) culture,” Mr. Stevens added.
“Dumb Luck” will be executive produced by Larry the Cable Guy, manager J.P. Williams of Parallel Entertainment and the ZOO partners. Mr. Stevens said the show will be pitched to both broadcast and cable networks in the next few weeks, though all parties involved see the series as better suited for a broadcast network.
The deal for “Dumb Luck” comes on the heels of ZOO snagging a pickup for “How’d You Get So Rich?”, a comedy reality series it’s producing with Mr. Burnett. TV Land first announced the project in October and ordered five more episodes last week.
Hosted by Joan Rivers, “Rich” will offer a humorous look at people who earned their money in unique ways.
The ZOO producers aren’t saying much about their deals with Mr. Eisner and Mr. Di Bona. The project with Mr. Eisner is a prime-time competition show in the early stages of development, while Mr. Di Bona came to ZOO with an idea for a humor-based show.
ZOO also continues to do well with its documentary-style cable projects.
The company has produced nearly 100 episodes of “Speeders” for Tru TV, and the first season of spinoff “Speeders Fight Back” recently premiered. MTV increased its original 20-episode order of “Busted” to 30 episodes and will decide on another season by next month.
ZOO is awaiting word from CMT on the fate of “Redneck Dreams,” a wish-fulfillment series that aired as a back-door pilot earlier this year.
All four projects—along with the company’s Oxygen series “Girls Behaving Badly,” which is no longer in production—harken back to Mr. Poznick’s and Mr. Stevens’ roots in the world of talk shows. Before jumping into reality TV, Mr. Poznick has spent years working on syndicated series such as “Extra” and “The Joan Rivers Show,” while Mr. Stevens started out on “Late Show With David Letterman.” They also both had overall deals at Telepictures and MTV Networks.
“We like finding shows that tap into pop culture,” Mr. Poznick said. “Our goal is always to tell good stories.”

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