Silverman, Peacock pluck Brit songfest

Europe’s oldest and biggest TV music competish is coming to the U.S. via Ben Silverman’s Reveille and NBC.

Silverman has snagged the format rights to the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual multi-nation battle of the bands (and singers) that’s helped launch the careers of artists from Abba and Celine Dion to Katrina and the Waves. Finale of the event — which preceded the original U.K. “Pop Idol” by decades — is seen by hundreds of millions of viewers, making it one of the biggest TV events of the year.

Now, with Fox’s “American Idol” showing no signs of slowing down, NBC is hoping Silverman’s take on a classic format can give the Peacock its own musical phenom.

Peacock has ordered the project to series and is still hammering out exact details of the format with Silverman, including a title.

What’s known is that, as with Eurovision, the NBC skein will put the focus on original songs rather than covers of existing hits, making the skein a songwriting showcase as well. And instead of three dozen or so countries battling it out, Silverman plans to have each of the 50 states select a band or singer to rep them in a final multi-week national competition.

“You’ll have this unbelievable multicultural, regional flavor to the whole show,” Silverman said. “Imagine the Montana cowboy, the Detroit Motown star, the New Jersey alt band and the Tennessee crooner all going up against one another.”

Auds will select the top 50 finalists and the ultimate champ. Winner gets a recording contract, as well as the guaranteed release of the winning song as a single (no doubt available for download on iTunes minutes after the finale wraps). It’s expected that both professional artists and amateurs will be able to compete, though that could change.

Silverman and NBC are also planning a heavy online presence for the show, with state finalists likely to be chosen via the Net.

“There’s going to be a lot of competition on the Web and SMS (text messaging),” said Peacock alternative chief Craig Plestis. “It’s going to be across all media platforms.”

Indeed, Silverman said the U.S. take on Eurovision will likely begin life online.

“We want to build a community before the show even gets on the air,” he said. “There’s a way to create a grassroots local thing that can then explode on a national scale once it comes to TV.”

Silverman and NBC aren’t the only ones looking to capture a piece of the “Idol” music mojo.

ABC recently snatched up the Endemol format “Operacion Triunfo,” which focuses on the making of pop superstars (Daily Variety, Feb. 7), while CBS has greenlit another season of “Rock Star.”

And NBC itself just unveiled “StarTomorrow,” a band-based competish that, for now, is scheduled to live solely online (Daily Variety, Feb. 2).

“People are looking at ‘American Idol’ and saying, ‘How can I get a piece of that?,’ because it’s far and away the most successful show on television,” said Silverman, who’s already found success on cable with USA Network’s “Idol”-esque “Nashville Star.”

Plestis also believes there’s room for more than one “Idol”-style music showcase on broadcast TV.

“When you look at the numbers in Europe and see how it does, even with the various versions of ‘Pop Idol,’ there’s a good chance of other shows working well in the marketplace,” he said. “But you’ve got to produce a quality show that has its own unique flavor.”

NBC and Silverman aren’t saying when they plan to launch the show, though both rule out any premiere prior to this fall.

Eurovision — produced by the European Broadcasting Union — has gone through all sorts of ups and downs during its 50-year history, starting out as a relatively bland event designed to promote Euro unity. Event kicked into high gear in the 1970s, starting in 1972 when the New Seekers found international success with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (later co-opted by Coca-Cola).

Abba then won with its song “Waterloo,” forever changing the face of the contest.

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