The lowdown on ABC ‘Town’

Alphabet greenlights new reality laffer

Six summers after they reinvented the gameshow with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC and Michael Davies are reteaming for a new take on the comedy/variety skein.

Alphabet has greenlit six episodes of “My Kind of Town,” an hourlong studio-based hybrid skein. In each seg, 200 people from a small town essentially become stars for a night as they compete in various comedic challenges and (sometimes unwittingly) act in pre-taped comic sketches. At the end of the episode, the town will have a shot at a grand prize of 200 major prizes.

Production is set to begin in the next few weeks with an eye on an August or early September debut.

Davies’ Embassy Row is partnering with Will Macdonald and David Granger of U.K.-based Monkey (“Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush”) to produce the series. Veteran Brit broadcaster Johnny Vaughan (“The Big Breakfast”) will host.

U.K. inspiration

ABC reality guru Andrea Wong commissioned the skein from Davies and Monkey, asking them to create an American version of landmark Brit variety/game skeins such as “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush” or “TFI Friday,” according to Davies.

“We have been talking about doing something like this since 1998, and she said, ‘Let’s build a vehicle for Johnny Vaughan,’ ” said Davies, chairman of Embassy Row. “She said that as long as we did it well, (she could) get Steve McPherson on board because he wants to do something like this, too.”

Wong said, “Everyone in my department” has wanted to do a show like “My Kind of Town” for a while, but they’re “difficult to pull off. It’s not on TV right now, and we wanted to try it.”

Both Wong and Davies said getting Vaughan aboard was key, noting his work on both “The Big Breakfast” and on radio, where he hosts the top-rated U.K. morning radio show for Capital FM.

“He’s the perfect host,” Wong said. “He’s got this infectious energy. He comes up with a lot of the ideas we do on the show.”

Davies said he and his Monkey partners all traveled the small towns of America when they first visited the country, and as a result, the ABC skein “will be rooted in our love of small-town America.”

‘Real people’ comedy

“The show’s about getting comedy from real people,” he said, calling it “a throwback to the classic studio variety show” of the 1950s. “We’re never going to make fun of these people. It’s as American a show as you can get.”

Each episode of “My Kind of Town” will start with 200 people being flown or bused in to an elaborate studio set in Gotham. At the top of each seg, producers will cut to a live remote from the small town, where all 200 grand prizes at stake will be laid out on Main Street.

“We then select one person who has to carry the burden for the entire town,” Davies explained. That person will likely be chosen for a reason, perhaps because he’s looking for a shot at redemption.

Sketches, games

In between the start of the show and the final big prize contest, members of the audience will compete in various “comedic sketches, games and surprise bits,” as Davies puts it. All the games will be designed to take advantage of “an inordinate amount of research” the producers will conduct on the townspeople.

“It’s a customized form of gaming based on intensive research,” Davies said.

While the final showdown raises the stakes for the audience and the home viewers, Davies noted there will be “lots and lots of winners” throughout the show. “And even if they don’t win the 200 prizes at the end, the consolation prizes are fabulous,” he said.

Davies doesn’t dismiss comparisons to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the U.K. hit he brought to the U.S. in 1999. “What that show did for cash, this show can do for (giving away) prizes,” he said.

“My Kind of Town” will shoot in the same studio where Davies first shot “Millionaire” six years ago, with Davies promising the same sort of innovative set design that helped change the look of gameshows.

Wong and Davies have been keeping a tight lid on “My Kind of Town,” secretly taping a pilot for the show earlier this spring.

“It’s a natural fit (for), and demonstrates the evolution of, our brand of reality programming,” Wong said.

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