Next big thing for Fox: ‘Pop Idol’ from Blighty

Skein to stay close to original format

Fox Broadcasting is getting ready to make a pop star.

Net has finalized plans to launch a Stateside version of the U.K. telly phenom “Pop Idol” this June. Skein will hew closely to the original format of the Brit hit, in which industry judges and at-home viewers select one person as the Next Big (musical) Thing.

American version of “Idol” will be produced by Spice Girl Svengali Simon Fuller’s 19 Television and FreemantleMedia, the same team that produced the Brit series. Roughly 22 episodes of the still-untitled series are expected to air on Fox this summer, with as many as two episodes airing some weeks.

Winner of the competish will snag a recording contract — most likely with BMG — as well as a cash prize. Will Young, who emerged victorious in the ITV-broadcast Brit “Idol,” last month saw his first single break all existing sales records for a pop debut its first week of release.

“This is the biggest thing the U.K. has experienced in six or seven years,” said Fox TV reality/latenight guru Mike Darnell. “We’re extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to produce the show here in America.”

While Fox’s deal for the skein closed only recently, net has been negotiating for the format for over a month (Daily Variety, Feb. 19.) Darnell said Fox was interested in the project even before it became a U.K. sensation; the socko ratings only increased the net’s desire to land the skein.

Skein was brought to the States by CAA, which packaged the deal.

“If we can even come close to what the U.K. generated in calls, it’ll be unreal,” Darnell said. Indeed, the “Idol” finale drew nearly three of four adults under 34 when it aired on ITV1; 9 million telephone votes were cast to determine the winner.

In addition to Fuller, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Jones, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick will serve as exec producers. Emmy winner Brian Gadinsky (“American Fighter Pilot”) will serve as U.S. showrunner, while Bruce Gowers will direct.

Frot-Coutaz said the U.K. version was a huge hit in part because of the aud participation element. Since viewers ultimately decide who advances to the final rounds, as well as the winner, “People have a vested interest in the program, in seeing their candidate win,” she said. “It’s run almost like a presidential campaign.”

While there’ve been other skeins that have attempted to create music celebs — including “Pop Stars” and “Making the Band” — “Idol” is different since it focuses on the audition process rather than the aftermath of winning the competish.

In addition to viewers, a panel of industry judges will help narrow down an initial pool of roughly 10,000 would-be stars. When the field is down to 50 candidates, series will split the contenders into five groups of 10, who’ll compete to make it to a final round of 10.

Final 10 would-be “Idols” will then compete in public venues with full orchestral backing. Winner will be selected in a live finale; other elements of the competish may also be live.

“America is full of incredibly talented performers looking for their first break,” said Fox Entertainment topper Gail Berman. “With this new series, we will fulfill a lot of dreams and let our viewers make someone a superstar.”

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