Lionsgate, Ish pact for Dubai-based version of show

Paris Hilton is taking her search for a best friend to the Middle East, where Lionsgate and Ish Entertainment have stuck a deal with a Dubai-based shingle to produce a new version of “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF.”

Dubai-based Uniqon is funding most of the project, which will follow the celebrity heiress as she puts a group of young women — half from the Middle East, half from elsewhere but currently living in Dubai — through a series of tests to see who would best complement her lifestyle.

“I love it for the sheer wildcard aspect of it,” said Ish Entertainment co-founder Michael Hirschorn. “It’s so out of the ordinary.”

“Paris Hilton’s My New BFF-Dubai” will adhere to the same format found in the U.S., where the original “My New BFF” airs on MTV, as well as in the U.K., where a version of the format was recently shot for ITV2.

But given Middle East sensibilities, Hirschorn said the Dubai production won’t be quite as racy as the U.S. or U.K. editions.

That means, for example, alcohol — normally a reality TV staple — won’t play a role on this version. And the production has promised to adhere to local cultural sensitivities. Swearing, sexually explicit conversation or risque clothing will be kept to a minimum.

The production had to receive several layers of approval before moving forward; even Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, had to give his blessing.

According to Hirschorn’s partner, Stella Stolper, Hilton has never been to Dubai before — so part of the show will include her initial reactions to her first trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Hilton will be accompanied by her boyfriend, Doug Reinhardt, who will likely appear on camera as well. Production will start later this month and shoot for 17 days; the finale will then conclude with a final shoot in Los Angeles.

The deal to lense in Dubai is actually part of a larger initiative at Lionsgate to find more financing by locating new partners worldwide.

“In the course of it we began talking specifically about Dubai and their interest in doing localized production,” said Craig Cegielski, exec VP of programming and sales for international TV.

And because Lionsgate handles Ish’s international distribution, “My New BFF” stood out among its series as making the most sense for a Dubai translation, he said.

Day-to-day production on the Dubai “My New BFF” will be handled by Dubai-based Viola Communications, via Uniqon, but Hirschhorn said Ish has sent several producers there to take part in the show as well.

According to Cegielski, Lionsgate received interest in the Dubai edition of “My New BFF” during the recent L.A. Screenings but won’t start shopping the program until after production is done. It’s also still unclear where the show may end up in the U.S.: MTV is a logical choice, but given Lionsgate’s ownership of TV Guide Network, that could be a home as well.

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