ABC loses out to Viacom's cross-marketing potential

Mark Burnett’s got what CBS needs, and the Eye has landed the reality guru’s TV search to find a lead singer for INXS.

Winner of the 13-week talent search — set to air in summer 2005 — will join the rock group, which scored several hits in the ’80s and ’90s (Daily Variety, June 9). CBS picked up the untitled series after a brutal bidding war with ABC and NBC.

Alphabet web in particular made a big play for the show. But ultimately, Burnett and company were enticed by the synergistic opportunities at CBS, where the show could rely on Viacom sibs MTV, VH1 and Infinity Radio for cross-marketing efforts.

According to insiders, Burnett sealed a rich deal with the Eye similar in nature to the pact he and DreamWorks TV made with NBC for Sylvester Stallone boxing entry “The Contender,” including an ad sales component.

Originally titled “Rock Star,” the skein will air two hours a week for 13 weeks next summer. CBS and producers are keeping mum on how they’ll divide up those two hours — such as whether it will be spread over several days and how the show’s performances and results segments will be spaced out.

CBS wouldn’t comment on the license fee or advertising arrangement, but in the case of “The Contender,” Peacock paid north of $2 million an episode and gave up six 30-second spots to the producers.

But others point out that it’s not quite a fair comparison, given that the rock project will air in the summer (vs. “Contender’s” in-season berth), when viewer levels (and therefore, license fees) are lower. The rock show will also be produced differently, with a live component, which makes it tough to single out a per-episode pricetag.

Show marks a return to where it all began for Burnett, who has leaped to the top of the heap among television producers in the years since “Survivor” debuted on CBS.

“CBS is home to the Grammys, and its parent company, Viacom, has the industry’s preeminent assets in radio and music-oriented cable channels,” Burnett said. “I believe this exciting programming concept has boundless potential for success here.”

Show will start out with a global talent search; Burnett plans to scout for lead singers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as Australia (from which INXS hails), the U.K. and Japan.

Finalists will live together in a Hollywood Hills home. Episodes will revolve around the relationships between the contestants as they cohabitate, as well as performance competitions.

Contestants will then be eliminated through a mix of viewer votes, judges and INXS members. The ultimate winner will record and go on tour with the band.

“This series will be complete with Mark Burnett’s signature style of visiting a world that has great characters, interesting relationships and unscripted drama,” said CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem. “It is also a program that fits with CBS’ philosophy to target and nurture reality shows that have franchise potential that can play a meaningful long-term role on our schedule.”

Burnett will exec produce, along with “American Idol” alum David Goffin and INXS business managers David Edwards and Michael Murchison. Conrad Riggs, who brokered the deals with INXS and CBS, will co-exec produce.

Original INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence, who fronted the band as it sold 30 million albums and had seven top 10 hits, died in 1997. Since then, Terence Trent D’Arby and Jon Stevens have performed with the band.

Burnett is repped by CAA, which packaged the project.

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