Alphabet, Fox send out battling ‘Nannies’

ABC greenlights successful Blighty skein

Move over, Mary Poppins — here comes the nanny from hell.

And she’s already got competition.

After a bidding war with Fox, the Alphabet has won the rights to “Supernanny,” the U.K. format from Ricochet Prods. that’s sort of an “Extreme Makeover” for parents. ABC has greenlit eight episodes of the skein, which just wrapped a super-successful run on Blighty’s Channel 4.

But in another sign of how fierce the marketplace has become for reality formats, hours after ABC landed “Supernanny,” word leaked out that Fox is in final negotiations with Granada for a similar-sounding skein dubbed “Nanny 911.”

As for ABC’s “Supernanny,” Nick Powell, who created and exec produced the original U.K. skein, will do the same for the Stateside version.

Skein stars Jo Frost, a real-life nanny dubbed “a tough-love Mary Poppins” by ABC alternative guru Andrea Wong.

Frost, who will make the trip across the Pond, moves in with families, figures out what’s wrong and serves up some blunt advice to help parents take control of their unruly kids.

Cameras capture everything, returning a few weeks after Frost leaves to see if her advice stuck.

“It’s a perfect fit for the ABC brand,” said Wong, who said casting will begin immediately with production starting up as soon as possible.

“We’re going to move as quickly as we can,” Wong said, no doubt mindful of the ultra-competitive reality climate.

A delay in launching ABC’s “Wife Swap” allowed Fox to premiere its “Trading Spouses” ahead of the Alphabet show; Fox skein looks to be an early hit.

As with Brit-based “Wife Swap,” Ricochet will work with a U.S. producer yet to be determined.

Deal for “Supernanny” came together swiftly: Skein wrapped its first three-seg Channel 4 run a week ago. Finale was one of the network’s top-rated shows of the year, averaging more than 6.5 million viewers and capturing nearly 30% of the available aud.

Wong said no agents were involved in putting together the deal. Instead, “We got a copy of the show, read about how well it was doing and called Ricochet,” she said.

Powell said the timing worked out well for Ricochet, which after nine years was “positioning … to move into the American market.”

“Supernanny” was born out of Ricochet’s success with a BBC format called “Who Rules the Roost,” another parenting-related skein.

“When we were going through that process, we saw so many families having a nightmare time of it, with people who were not enjoying being parents,” Powell said. “We decided this kind of show was in the zeitgeist.”

Tough but lovable

Key to “Supernanny” was casting Frost; it took six weeks to find a nanny with the right mix of bluntness and heart.

“I don’t think Jo will have a problem with American families, because she’s worked in America before,” Powell said. “She’s no-nonsense, she’s tough-talking, but she’s also got a tremendous empathy for people. She won’t stop until those kids are behaving better.”

Success of the U.K. skein spurred Channel 4 to order a second series of five episodes Tuesday, Powell said.

“Supernanny” also apparently caught the Eye of Granada execs, who’ve been developing their own family-based reality skeins, insiders said. It’s unclear when Granada began developing its show.

Fox reality chief Mike Darnell wouldn’t comment on when he began talking to Granada — though with the Granada deal not yet inked, it’s clear Fox wouldn’t have ordered “911” if it had landed “Supernanny.”

Nonetheless, “This is yet another example of the fact that there are multiple pitches of ideas out at the same time,” added Darnell, who has been attacked by ABC and NBC for “stealing” ideas.

“Nanny 911” will feature several nannies, a la “Queer Eye,” with one picked in each episode to help a problem home get back on track.

“It’s a sort of Justice League of nannies,” Darnell quipped. After the chosen nanny does her job, “The other nannies will then assess how she performed.”

“With the success of ‘Trading Spouses,’ it appears that there’s a new form taking over: Instead of a structured game outside of people’s real lives, (shows are) entering into people’s lives and effecting real change,” said Darnell. “We think this would be a great companion for ‘Trading Spouses.'”

Darnell said Granada has already begun casting for “Nanny 911” and that it’s posssible the show will use a mix of Brit and U.S. nannies. No timetable is in place for production, though Darnell admitted that “if you have a chance to get your show on before the competition, it can give you an advantage.”

One industry observer said he wasn’t surprised by the “Nanny” war. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the execution,” he said.

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