Fox's reality skein spinoff to worship celebs

TV’s top-rated reality show is getting the star treatment, with Fox closing in on a deal for a celebrity spinoff of “American Idol.”

“Idol” producers FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment are behind the project, which Fox reality guru Mike Darnell said would be broadcast as a 10-episode “event” over the course of two or three weeks. Skein — dubbed “Celebrity Idol” — will feature 10 well-known faces competing for charity, with the winner getting $1 million for his or her pet cause.

While there’s no official airdate yet, Darnell said the skein could air “sooner rather than later,” and an early fall or November sweeps premiere seems logical.

Original “Idol” production team of Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe, Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Ken Warwick are all set to produce the star edition.

When asked about the participation of judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, as well as host Ryan Seacrest, Darnell said it’s “our hope that the judges and Ryan will do the show.”

Snagging A-list talent for reality shows has been difficult for nets in the past, though ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” has become a hit with its collection of sudser, sitcom and sports stars.

‘Biggest talent possible’

Nonetheless, “We’re going to go for the biggest talent possible,” Darnell said, promising a very “open policy” toward casting.

“We’re looking for people who can sing but aren’t known for singing,” he said.

Darnell added that the plan is to make “Celebrity Idol” feel “completely disconnected from ‘American Idol.’ “

“It’s all being done for fun and charity. We want the celebrities to have a ball with it,” he added.

That will mean no celebrity auditions or weekly results show; likewise, the judges will have no say in who goes forward. Viewers will still vote by phone, but results will be given on the next performance episode, with one celeb leaving each night.

By scheduling the show as a two- or three-week miniseries of sorts, Darnell and the producers hope to further distinguish “Celebrity Idol” from the original.

Annual event?

“Because it’s being scheduled this way, we hope it becomes more of a special, hopefully one that is an annual event,” he said.

That’s key, because producers and the agencies that packaged “Idol” –CAA and William Morris — have long been vigilant about protecting the franchise from overexposure. Fox airs “Idol” only once a year over a five-month frame.

Idea for “Celebrity Idol” came from the producers, Darnell said, adding that the show has been mulled for years and has been in active development “for several months.”

NBC recently confirmed plans for its own celeb singing competish, “I’m a Celebrity but I Want to Be a Pop Star” (Daily Variety, June 20). Entry of Fox’s 800-lb. gorilla will no doubt increase the pressure on the Peacock and producers Granada America to cast their project and get it on the air quickly.

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