ABC’s ‘Runner’ off and running

Vet showrunner faces 'monumental prod'n challenge'

ABC’s ambitious cross-country chase show “The Runner” is one step closer to reality: Net has tapped veteran producer Roger Goodman to serve as showrunner of the project, which many had assumed to be dead.

Goodman, an 18-time Emmy winner who designed and directed the net’s massive “ABC 2000” millennium coverage, will be responsible for mounting a series whose logistical complexities, according to ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairman Lloyd Braun, pose “a monumental production challenge.”

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, along with Sean Bailey and Chris Moore, also serve as exec producers of the project via their Live Planet production shingle.

Skein essentially revolves around one contestant, the “runner,” who must elude a nationwide, 28-day manhunt while simultaneously performing up to eight different missions created by the show’s producers.

Chasing the runner: viewers across the country, who will be given the identity of the contestant and regular updates on the person’s whereabouts via the on-air program and a companion Web site.

The runner will be cast by Goodman, but will be playing for a prize of $1 million if he or she eludes capture for the entire month. Conversely, viewers who register with the show’s Web site or via mail as “agents” will be eligible to win an escalating weekly prize for “tagging” — essentially capturing — the runner.

Exactly how the runner will be caught — and not harmed in the process — is still being hammered out. But ABC execs are confident they’ll be able to work out that detail, as well as find a way to use hidden cameras to track the runner’s progress without alerting the public to the runner’s whereabouts.

Barrier breaker

Key to making the project work is Goodman, said Andrea Wong, ABC’s senior VP for alternative series and specs.

“Because this show is so difficult to execute and such a difficult undertaking, we needed someone who could break through walls for us,” Wong said. “Roger’s the best guy I know to do that. He’s a killer.”

Goodman has been at the Alphabet net for 36 years, working for ABC News and ABC Sports on events as wide-ranging as the Olympics, “Monday Night Football,” coverage of the Gulf War and the 1993 ABC spec “Michael Jackson Talks to Oprah.”

Wong said Goodman’s live background is crucial since ABC is essentially “creating a gigantic sporting event,” with ABC possessing the exclusive rights to cover that event.

“It’s rife with logistic and liability issues,” she said.

Indeed, ABC has spent nearly 10 months hunting for a showrunner since word of the project leaked out last summer (Daily Variety, June 22), prompting speculation that the show was dead.

Alphabet execs, however, have always insisted they were behind the concept; they simply needed to find the right person to make it happen.

Braun said “The Runner” is a huge priority for ABC.

‘A monumental challenge’

“We believe this program is going to be a smash hit for this network,” he said. “Roger has quickly become the driving force in what is a monumental production challenge. We can’t wait to get this on the air.”

ABC has prepared for the possibility that the runner could be caught within a few days, thus quickly ending the program. If that happens, the net will simply release a new runner, who again will have to elude capture for 28 days.

Show will begin with a chosen runner getting a knock at the door and told to start running. Runner will be provided with certain aids, such as a car and cell phone, as well as a series of challenges to complete.

Wong said the show will abound with sponsorship possibilities, providing another revenue stream to ABC.

“One of the missions could be where the runner has to buy a hamburger at McDonald’s … or get a haircut at Supercuts,” she said, adding that the cell phone or car used by the runner may also be up for grabs to a Madison Avenue party interested in the show.

Security concerns

Preventing a crazed viewer from attacking the runner is a top concern for ABC, but Wong said the net won’t go forward with the show until it’s convinced the proper security precautions are in place.

Also still to be determined is how often “The Runner” will air on ABC. Net could air one or two hourlong shows per week tracking the runner’s progress, missions and attempts by viewers to track the runner down. There’s also the possibility of shorter, more frequent updates.

“You just can’t make a 13-episode commitment to something like this,” Wong said.

Fox has a similar project in development, dubbed “Wanted,” but execs there are still waiting to see a blueprint for how that show might work. Net did not mention it at its pre-upfront presentation to advertisers Tuesday, and industry insiders believe it’s a longshot to get on the air at Fox.

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