WB ramps up reality skeins

Frog shows focus on 'wish fulfillment, fantasy and empowerment'

HOLLYWOOD — The WB has greenlit production on two new reality series: the high school reunion fantasy “Classmates” and a nationwide competish that aims to discover “The Most Talented People in America.”

Skeins, from WB sibling Telepictures Prods., are being targeted for the 2002-03 season. “Talented People,” from exec producers Matt Casella and Charles Hirschorn, has been given an eight-episode commitment; the Frog has ordered seven segs of “Classmates,” from exec producer Mike Fleiss and Next Entertainment.

“Both projects fit into the niche that we’re trying to create for ourselves in reality programming,” WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin said. “Themes of wish fulfillment, fantasy and empowerment … that are an extension of the themes prevalent through our scripted programming.

Casella will actually be a character of sorts in “Talented People”: Skein will follow him to regional open casting calls in six U.S. cities and document his search for singers, actors, musicians, comics and other entertainers.

Casella has a knack for spotting talent: As casting chief for “The New Mickey Mouse Club,” he helped launch the careers of Britney Spears, ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake and “Felicity’s” Keri Russell, among others.

Each hourlong episode will feature potential stars competing against one another for a chance to make it to national semifinals and finals, the latter most likely to be held in Gotham.

Finale, aired live or shot live-to-tape, will determine the roughly half-dozen winners of the competish, who will be awarded grand prizes such as a recording contract, a guest spot on a WB series or the chance to sign with a major talent agency.

Casella said “Talented People” will try to focus on the story behind each contestant rather than simply show the competish itself.

“If I find a 30-year-old housewife who gave up her dreams of being a singer at 18, that’s a great Cinderella story to tell,” he said. “You’re going to get that backstory and see the excitement.”

Casella, who has a three-pic first-look feature deal at Disney, said he won’t act as a formal host of “Talented People.”

“I’m going to be the character that basically has to get information from these (contestants) in a short period of time and make decisions about who I feel are the most extraordinary people,” he said.

Once the six open casting calls are finished, the semifinalists will take part in a five-day training camp in which they’ll work with directors, choreographers and other pros to prepare for the final live performance to determine the winners.

Deal for “Talented People” was brokered by William Morris, Connie Tavel and Mike Adler.

Past is prologue

As for “Classmates,” skein will follow a group of 12 to 16 high school alums at their 10-year reunion. The group will explore old friendships and reignite past romances in a to-be-determined “remote, warm and tropical” location. Show will also include not-yet-determined game elements.

CAA-repped Fleiss (“Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire”) said the idea originated from his wife after she returned from her high school reunion.

Fleiss said Next Entertainment is currently looking at 80 high schools in order to find the perfect, “fun, attractive class — one with a lot of singles still thinking about the one they let get away.”

“Talented People” and “Classmates” rep the latest in a growing list of primetime skeins for Telepictures, which is primarily known as the syndie powerhouse behind the likes of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.”

Studio is currently producing a primetime version of its syndie strip “ElimiDate” for the WB, as well as upcoming ABC reality skein “The Bachelor.”

Telepictures topper Jim Paratore said his studio is simply responding to the networks’ current hunger for nonfiction programming.

Back from hibernation

In the early 1990s, he noted, Telepictures produced primetime series such as “How’d They Do That” and “Best of the Worst.” When newsmags replaced most network reality projects, there was less of a demand for reality from outside studios.

“But ‘Survivor’ reopened the door,” he said. “We have a big infrastructure (to produce nonfiction). It made logical sense for us to revisit it for primetime.”

While the syndie biz “is still our priority,” Paratore said, “network television can be a lucrative business.

“The strategy is to just have our fingers in as many pies as possible.”

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