Cabler pacts with 'Life' producers for series

HOLLYWOOD — Things are about to get even more “Surreal” on VH1.

In a first-of-its-kind deal for the Viacom-owned net, cabler has signed “The Surreal Life” producers Mark Cronin and Cris Abrego to a hefty overall production pact, committing to seven series from the pair over the next two years. Deal includes an order for the next three editions of “Surreal” (the pair are currently casting the sixth season), “Surreal” spinoff “My Fair Brady” — set to bow Sept. 11 — and several to-be-determined skeins.

Cronin’s Mindless Entertainment and Abrego’s 51 Pictures will produce all seven projects.

“Surreal Life” — essentially “The Real World” for B-list celebs — has led VH1’s ratings resurrection since it premiered on the channel last fall after being launched on the WB. For the second quarter, cabler is up 8% in overall viewership and 9% in adults 18-49.

Fifth edition of “Surreal” bowed Sunday to more than 2 million viewers, down just slightly from the last season’s 2.2 million. (Sunday’s bow of Hulk Hogan starrer “Hogan Knows Best” grabbed a record-setting 2.6 million viewers.)

“It’s our feeling not anyone can create a VH1 show in the right voice,” MTV Networks Music Group entertainment prexy Brian Graden said. “Mark and Cris get it.”

Cronin said the duo are already exploring additional projects in the comedy-reality vein.

As for “My Fair Brady,” skein follows “Brady” star Christopher Knight and “America’s Next Top Model” winner Adrianne Curry as they embark on a romance that began during the last season of “Surreal.”

First “Surreal” spinoff “Strange Love,” which chronicled the romance between third-season cast members Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen, debuted to VH1’s then-best-ever series premiere ratings in March.

“We’ve really lucked out with the spinoffs,” Abrego said. “We catch Chris and Adrianne just as they’re deciding whether they’re in this relationship for the long haul. They moved in together right after ‘Surreal Life’ ended, and we pick up at this critical moment shortly after that.”

Graden said VH1 is aggressively looking to sign more production outfits to overall deals.

Cronin’s Mindless Entertainment is currently producing series for GSN, IFC and Pax. Abrego’s credits include “The Next Action Star” for NBC.

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