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ABC invents new reality

Duo team up for big 'Idea'

Simon Cowell has a “Million Dollar Idea” for ABC.

The “American Idol” judge is teaming up with “Idol” co-producer FremantleMedia on a competition-based reality skein designed to find a budding entrepreneur with an untapped business proposal or product concept.

Alphabet has greenlit production on nine episodes of the skein, which is tentatively being called “The Million Dollar Idea” and could be on the air by late fall. Idea for the show came from U.K. tycoon Peter Jones, who developed the skein with Cowell and Fremantle.

Cowell, Nigel Hall and FremantleMedia North America’s Cecile Frot-Coutaz will exec produce. Because of his “Idol” deal, Cowell won’t appear on-air during “Idea.”

ABC alternative topper Andrea Wong bought the show as soon as she heard the pitch, Cowell told Daily Variety via telephone from London.

“It was probably the easiest sell I’ve ever done,” he said. “I did it on my mobile, and after two minutes of telling her about the show, she said she’d buy the idea.”

Indeed, it turned out ABC had been playing with the idea of an invention-related show when Cowell came calling.

“We had looked at a number of formats and hadn’t found the right one,” Wong said. “It’s an arena we’ve been looking at for a while.”

“Somebody out there has thought of the next Post-it Note or Starbucks, but they don’t have the means to actually make it happen,” Wong added.

“Idea,” like “Idol,” will start off with nationwide auditions, with would-be inventors pitching their concepts to a three-judge panel of business leaders (including Jones) dubbed “the millionaires.”

“The Donald would have been perfect for the show, so I guess I’ll have to find someone richer than him,” Cowell quipped, referring to “Apprentice” host Donald Trump.

As with “Idol,” Cowell said viewers would see “the good, the bad and the ugly” among would-be inventors.

After a whittling-down process, nine finalists will be given seed money of $50,000 to develop their concept further.

“We want to see how far they can take their idea,” Wong said.

Skein will then focus on the human stories surrounding the inventors and their ideas.

“It’s about finding those people who’ve mortgaged their house, quit their jobs and put everything on the line to pursue their ideas,” said Frot-Coutaz. “I see the show as having the same human elements of ‘Idol.’ ”

The nine contestants will ultimately be narrowed down to three finalists, with viewers choosing the winner in a live finale broadcast.

Whoever wins the competish gets $1 million and, if all goes well, the winning product could be on store shelves soon after.

“We hope we’re going to create a product that will sell millions across America,” Cowell said of the CAA-packaged project. He and Fremantle will have an ownership stake in the winning idea, much the way “Idol” producers have a claim in the winner of that competish.

Cowell said he wanted to bring “Idea” to the U.S. first because of the country’s free-market tradition.

“Everyone in America thinks they’ve got that one big idea that’s going to make them millions,” he said. “America encourages that. There’s not a better place in the world to launch a business or invention.”

“Idea” reps the second skein Cowell has produced for the U.S. market; CBS aired his “Cupid” a few years ago.

Cowell is also behind the U.K. hit “The X Factor.”

ABC began developing “Idea” months ago but kept it quiet in part because of fears about another net ripping off the project. Fox, in particular, has seemed to be particularly in tune with the Alphabet’s alternative development process.

Fox hasn’t announced plans for an inventor-based show, but if it does, “I guess they’d call it ‘The Million-and-One-Dollar Idea,’ ” Cowell quipped.

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