Three webs fight for ‘Brother’s’ attention

Endemol asking $15 to $20 mil

A three-web bidding war is brewing over the U.S. rights to “Big Brother,” the Dutch TV phenom best described as “The Real World” meets “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

In the latest twist on the networks’ newfound interest in all things gameshow, Holland-based Endemol is said to be asking between $15 million and $20 million for the format rights to the megapopular skein, which at times has attracted more than 70% of Dutch primetime viewers and was the country’s most-watched program in 1999.

ABC, CBS and Fox are said to be interested in the skein for broadcast as early as this summer; a deal with one of the three could be closed within days.

Like “The Real World,” one of the main attractions of “Brother” is the voyeur angle: A group of people is gathered in a house and monitored continuously by TV cameras. Footage is then edited down into half-hour or hourlong segs.

Viewers participate by voting on which “contestants” remain with the program. At the end of a 100-day frame, the last remaining housemate is awarded a huge cash prize.

A key negotiating point with Endemol’s discussions with U.S. webs has been how the format would be copied for the U.S. market. Reps for the Dutch producers initially said it was essential the program be stripped over a two- to three-month period in order to build excitement. But some network execs have hesitated, not wanting to commit such a huge amount of airtime — even in the summer — to a format that might tank in the States.

One web insider say he’s intrigued by the show, but unsure if what flies with the Dutch will play in Peoria.

“I mean, you may be able to show my wedding video in (Holland) and get a 50 share,” the exec quipped.

The format of “Big Brothers” has been likened to that of another import hitting U.S. shores this summer: “Survivor,” the island adventure challenge bowing on CBS in June. That skein plops contestants on an island and has them battle each other in various contests until one person is left standing.

“Survivor” producer Castaway has made known its displeasure with the similarities with “Brother” (Daily Variety, Oct. 29, 1999).

Eye execs might be worried that a competing web would pick up “Brother” and run it at the same time as “Survivor,” thus weakening the show’s appeal. The net could also be interested in pairing the two skeins, thus creating a potentially blockbuster reality block for the summer.

Entertainment reality skeins such as “Survivor” and “Brother” are coming on strong this year. Fox has announced a 13-seg order for a real-life version of “My So-Called Life” set in a high school, while ABC is creating a Backstreet Boys-like band for a series set to bow this spring.

Reps for ABC, CBS and Fox declined comment.

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