Network nabs new series from 'Idol' makers

NBC has ordered six one-hour episodes of “Thank God You’re Here,” an improvisational comedy series from FremantleMedia North America, the producers of Fox’s “American Idol.”

Hosted by David Alan Grier (“In Living Color”), and presided over by judge Dave Foley (“News Radio”), each episode of “Thank God” showcases the improvisational skills of a group of celebs as they compete to outdo one another’s performance in various unexpected skits.

The deal was rumored during the first day of the NATPE convention in Vegas but was announced Wednesday by NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly.

The acquisition is part of NBC’s stated policy of looking for more cost-effective solutions for its 8 to 9 p.m. slots, rather than relying exclusively on expensive laffers or dramas.

Fremantle, which is a mega-player internationally, has made a speciality of producing programming in various genres more economically than most broadcasters themselves manage to do. Shows produced by the U.K.-based conglom have only recently attained a consistent presence on U.S. primetime network skeds. Think not only the “Idol” jackpot on Fox but “America’s Got Talent” on NBC and “American Inventor” on ABC . (Through the acquisition of All American TV morfe than a decade ago, Fremantle also controls syndie stalwart “Family Feud” and CBS’s “The Price is Right.”)

” ‘Thank God You’re Here’ is basically every adventurous performer’s dream and we think the viewers can vicariously enjoy how they respond to their unforeseen predicaments,” said Craig Plestis, senior VP for Alternative Programming at the Peacock’s Entertainment division. “It has a daring, seat-of-your pants feel that’s proven to be a big hit in its original Australian version.”

Launched at the MIP-TV sales bazaar in Cannes last April, “Thank God You’re Here” has swiftly become one of the most popular comedy entertainment formats in a dozen territories.

FremantleMedia currently produces versions of the hit series in 10 territories — the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Norway, Israel, Denmark and Australia.

“This format has proven a comedic phenom in many countries both on-air and online, where clips from the show are frequent popular downloads,” said Fremantle North America CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz.

Originated in Australia by Working Dog Prods., where the show is now in its third season, “Thank God You’re Here” is based on a simple premise: challenge celebrity guests to enter a door into their own comedy sketch they know nothing about.

In the Yank version, Jennifer Coolidge (“American Pie”), Bryan Cranston (“Malcolm in the Middle”), Joel McHale (“The Soup”) and Wayne Knight (“Seinfeld”) star in the pilot episode. Production on the remaining episodes is expected to resume in February.

“Thank God You’re Here” is produced by FremantleMedia North America.

Frot-Coutaz is exec producer, as she is for “American Idol.” Fax Bahr and Adam Small (“Mad TV”) are also exec producers. David Alan Grier is producer.

FremantleMedia North America (FMNA) is a division of global media giant FremantleMedia, whose various units produce soaps, reality, comedy and other fare around the world.

FremantleMedia is the production arm of the pan-European RTL TV Group, which itself is a unit of Teutonic conglom Bertelsmann.

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