Pop goes the Alphabet

ABC, Endemol perform talent 'Operacion'

ABC and Endemol USA are teaming to import the hit Spanish format “Operacion Triunfo,” a singing competish that’s a mash-up of “American Idol” and “Big Brother.”

With “Idol” more popular than ever in the U.S., ABC skein will go a step beyond that format by focusing on the training of aspiring pop stars, showing would-be Kelly Clarksons living and studying together in a fully working school of music that doubles as the contestants’ home.

Performances will still be key to the show, but an almost equal weight will be put on the soapy behind-the-scenes storylines mostly ignored by “Idol,” according to Endemol USA chief David Goldberg.

“Triunfo” has been a monster hit since launching in Spain back in September 2001, spawning successful versions in Blighty (“Fame Academy”), France (“Star Academy”) and several other countries. No name has yet been selected for the U.S. version.

ABC reality chief Andrea Wong told Daily Variety that the format complemented the network’s brand of feel-good reality — such as Endemol’s own “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“This is about wish fulfillment, about making dreams come true,” she said. “It’s about the hope found in young people as they’re following their dreams and aiming for a shot at fame and success.”

“Triunfo” hit it big in Spain right around the same time “Pop Idol” bowed in the U.K. but well before “American Idol” hit it big for Fox in summer 2002.

U.S. version of “Idol” has largely eschewed showcasing the sausage-making aspects of the fame factory, heavily selling the “dream” aspect of pop stardom. Indeed, a plan to feature more behind-the-scenes footage during season two of the skein was quickly dropped a few weeks into production.

By contrast, “Triunfo” will highlight the struggles of aspiring stars as they try to transform themselves from average Joes into pop kings, according to Goldberg.

“There are a lot of shows out there, going back to ‘Star Search,’ that are performance shows,” Goldberg said. “What we rarely see is what it takes to get to the point where a person is performing onstage. If you have a singer fighting laryngitis and can’t hit certain notes, or if you see that person is struggling the last week to do that dance, (showing that) reality brings a heightened attention and interest.”

According to an ABC rep, show is expected to take place over 10 weeks, with 12 contestants competing for the ultimate prize: money and a recording contract.

One early plan has the show airing three times a week, with one episode focusing on the behind-the-scenes reality, another centering on live performances and the third featuring the results.

In “Triunfo,” music academy teachers nominate three students for expulsion each week. Remaining students immediately get to save one of their peers, with viewers deciding which of the two left standing get to return.

Format’s ratings have been huge in many countries, particularly France, where “Star Academy” attracting a jaw-dropping 70 share at one point. In Spain, original skein produced record ratings for TVE, averaging a 40 share during its first season.

Goldberg, who’s just begun looking for a showrunner for the U.S. “Triunfo,” said he believed there was room for a different kind of talent competish, especially given that “American Idol” only airs for half a year.

“There’s a different way to do this show,” he said. “It’s a show we’ve done for years in Europe. It’s ironic that it’s taken this long to get this show established here. It co-exists in many markets where ‘Pop Idol’ is and in some cases it beats it.”

Endemol currently has hits on ABC (“Home Edition”), NBC (“Deal or No Deal,” “Fear Factor”) and CBS (“Big Brother,” a co-production with Shapiro/Grodner).

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