Network climbing into 'Cage'

Unscripted mogul John de Mol — creator of “Fear Factor” and “Big Brother” — is jumping back into the U.S. reality TV game.

Producer has pacted with ABC to adapt “The Golden Cage,” a sudsy skein he describes as “‘Big Brother’ meets ‘Dallas’ or ‘Dynasty.'” Sale reps his first major Stateside play since leaving Endemol three years ago and launching his Talpa Prods. banner.

ABC reality topper Andrea Wong and senior veepee John Saade aggressively pursued the format rights to “Cage.”

While elements of the game could change during development, current format takes 10 people and parks them in a luxury mansion in which they live like millionaires — think servants, lavish parties and, in the case of the current Dutch skein, prostitutes. The downside: They have limited contact with friends and family, winning visits or time out of the house via competitions.

Whoever can last longest wins the house, as well as a major cash prize.

Because they get to live a lush life, contestants could end up staying in the house for months, if not years. The only way players are dismissed from the game is if they choose to leave, or if every other member of the house agrees to vote them off during twice-monthly “firings.”

“I compare it to a Broadway musical: It’s an open-ended reality show where nobody knows how long it’s going to last,” de Mol said. “The format is so bloody simple, you wonder why we haven’t thought of it before.”

To up the ante, Dutch version of “Golden Cage” required contestants to put up an entrance fee of roughly $14,000 to get on the show (proceeds go to charity). “We want to make sure we’re dealing with serious people,” he said.

As with “Big Brother,” “Golden Cage” contestants will be under 24-hour camera surveillance, with images broadcast on both TV and the Web. De Mol said innovations in cameras and lighting give the show a different feel from most reality skeins.

“It’s all on a much higher level. It feels like a drama,” he said.

Reality historians will recognize “The Golden Cage” as the original code name for “Big Brother,” which de Mol first developed nearly a decade ago in Holland. The “Cage” title ultimately was deemed inappropriate for “Brother,” but de Mol resurrected it last year while designing the format for the new show.

“Cage” is airing on Tien, the Dutch broadcast station de Mol launched in August 2005, in part to serve as a platform for launching reality formats.

After taking an eight-month sabbatical, de Mol has plunged back into the development game via Talpa. He’s working on several other formats that could be shopped to U.S. broadcasters shortly.

One potential import: “One Million Whats,” a quizzer in which contestants know how much they can win (one million) but not the unit in which it’s paid (dollars, pesos, sea urchins).

As in past U.S. ventures, de Mol’s ABC deal was handled by Jeanne Newman.

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