Call It Re-Reality TV
By Lisa de Moraes
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page D01
LOS ANGELES, July 10
Fox is developing a reality series called "Who's My Daddy," in which a young woman will try to figure out which of 16 men is actually her father, industry insiders say.
Another Fox reality show in secret development, with the working title of "Big Shot," is a sort of "Joe Schmo" meets "The Apprentice": a bunch of young ambitious corporate sharks think they're competing to land a big job with a Donald Trump type, only he turns out to be a fraud.
News of these two projects spread on Saturday among The Reporters Who Cover Television when Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, had his at-bat during Summer TV Press Tour 2004.
Zucker was waxing peevish about the latest trend in reality series programming -- ripping off series before they even debut. Ripping off hot reality series after they debut is a time-honored television tradition. But this new "reality piracy," as the trades have dubbed it, is running rampant in Hollywood, and ever at the forefront of new TV trends, the Fox network appears to be leading the charge.
When NBC announced a new boxing series from Mark Burnett called "The Contender" for its fall schedule, Fox followed by announcing it would put an Oscar De La Hoya boxing series, "The Next Great Champ," on the air before NBC's. Burnett retaliated by announcing he was developing a rock version of Fox's "American Idol," in which he searches for the next lead singer for the '80s band INXS, which Burnett subsequently sold to CBS. NBC, meanwhile, retaliated by announcing a new David E. Kelley-produced legal reality series soon after Fox announced it was developing a legal reality series called "The Partner," though NBC's series won't debut before Fox's, and the two shows actually aren't too similar in detail.
Fox next targeted ABC, which had announced plans for "Wife Swap," to debut in late September, in which two very different families trade moms for two weeks. Fox's version, "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mom," is expected to debut well in advance of ABC's show.
"Quite frankly, [Fox] used to be innovators and now they're imitators," Zucker told critics feelingly. He added, "It's having no impact on us -- if we really were concerned about their boxing show, we would rush our boxing show on and beat theirs. . . . But it's just bad for the business and it's bad for everybody and I don't think that all is fair in love and television."
Right around then, Zucker added, "We happen to know what Fox's two secret [reality] shows are, but I'm not going on. . . . I wouldn't do that."
"Why don't you tell us what they are and we'll take it from there?" one critic responded.
"Let's see how the rest of this session goes and we'll talk at the end. But they have two," Zucker said.
The talk turned to this and that until one critic, grabbing a mike, hollered: "Jeff . . . I think I speak for everyone in the room when I say that the orange tie, blue shirt -- you're probably the most fashionable executive we've seen in years up there onstage. And do you suppose you could tell us the name of those two Fox shows?"
And then he did. At least "Who's My Daddy." He said he couldn't remember the other one (but he did later).
A Fox rep, contacted Saturday on his way to Dodger Stadium, said the network would not comment on its development plans.
Later in the day, during a Q&A session on "The Contender," DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg was asked about Fox's maneuverings. "I've never experienced anything like this," Katzenberg said. "I've spent 30 years in Hollywood in the business I love and is everything I know, and the sanctity of the idea is an ideal I was taught from the time I arrived in the business.
"This is really disheartening and disappointing; if imitation is the highest form of flattery, theft is the lowest form of creativity."
"Bootlegging has finally made it to prime time," chimed in Sylvester Stallone, who is also involved in the NBC boxing project.
NBC Universal Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol says he's confident his team of more than 3,100 workers will be safe at the Summer Olympics in Athens next month. At a meeting with President Bush in February about security for the Olympics, Ebersol said, Bush was dazzlingly together compared with the man he knew during their college days at Yale.
"I had a one-on-one with President Bush in February where he dazzled," Ebersol told critics.
"I went to college with him. I don't remember him as being that curious and up to date on all the facts. But at this one, he really did know the facts and he talked about -- no, I'm serious. Heck, I was there -- the guy liked to drink in college."
"You know," said NBC's prime-time Olympics anchor Bob Costas, turning to Ebersol, "there's every chance that's the only quote that comes out of here."
Appearing Saturday afternoon, NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw told critics he had not wanted to even come to the press tour because, he said, he did not think the press or his company should be making a big deal about the fact that he is retiring from the job in December after more than 21 years.
We respect that.
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