More Bang for Your Buck: How ‘Siberia’ Was Fully Financed Before Landing at NBC

Siberia NBC

Fake reality show arrives as broadcast nets try to ramp up their original summer offerings

The finance model for NBC’s summer drama “Siberia” comes from a place not-so-remote: the indie film world.

Series, set to launch tonight at 10 on NBC, was fully financed by film producer Michael Ohoven of Infinity Media (“Saved,” “Capote”) and partner Chris Philip of Sierra/Engine TV before the project was even pitched to a network. Since the skein was fully backed before being shopped around, “Siberia” was also able to skip the arduous piloting process, which would have undercut the progression of the show’s unique, slow-burn plot.

“I come from the feature world and thought, with all the risk involved but with all the potential upside, why not apply the model here?” said Ohoven to Variety. “We truly have a groundbreaking idea,  something not done yet on TV.”

“Siberia” is the latest and perhaps most ambitious blending of television’s scripted and unscripted spheres, as it centers on a group of people filming a reality competition in the isolated territory of Tunguska when something goes terribly wrong. Show has already drawn journos and social media users alike to ask: “What is Siberia?” and “Is It Real or Fake?”

Ohoven of Infinity Media shepherded the concept to Philip and Nick Meyer of Sierra/Engine TV, where Philip said, “We saw the potential.”

“Our first question was: ‘Which network?'” recalled Philip. “They told us, ‘No network,’ and slowly it began to unfold: we’d completely finance a show without a net, not even one in Bulgaria. I’m involved with a lot of straight to series, low-cost orders, like ‘Cross Bones,’ ‘Black Box’ and ‘Rescue Three,’ so we knew how to pre-sell 13 episodes.”

When Ohoven and Philip teased the series at MipTV in April, NBC was intrigued by the concept, as vague as it was at the time. (The partners even had those eying jobs on “Siberia” sign NDAs in order to protect the show’s format and keep the concept under wraps.) Less than two months later, and after quick negotiations with NBC, “Siberia” secured a spot on the Peacock’s summer lineup.

While Philip and Ohoven have entered a risky game of being out of pocket on an entire series, they see lucrative returns for the show, which was shot in Canada and didn’t have much overhead.

“We basically own an NBC show,” the pair quipped.

“The upside is the rest of the world is available for us to sell to, and the NBC brand helps us sell internationally,” said Philip. The show also draws a healthier license fee from the Peacock than Canadian and European summer imports that have already aired elsewhere, Philip explained, as NBC has essentially secured its own original program for a 13-episode run.

Philip says “Siberia” has already been sold to seven countries with more territories lined up to negotiate. Its launch tonight on NBC faces competition from CBS’ summer skein “Under the Dome,” which opened strongly last Monday and showed significant gains with DVR use later in the week. Philip and Ohoven see “Siberia” as viable for a five season run, as far as the concept goes, and hope it’s renewed for a second season.

But even if the show doesn’t perform well with American auds, “Siberia” now has a buffet of international outlets that could renew it.

Ohoven and Philip hope to reproduce this TV finance model again in the near future.

“I know what sells around the world, and Michael knows how to produce with that independent feel,” stated Philip. “It’s a good partnership, and we’ve already identified a second project for this model.”

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  1. Ed Hands says:

    @Amy…aw, come on, Amy. It wasn’t that bad. While derivative and somewhat predictable, but hey, it’s summer fare. It kept my interest for an hour at any rate. I’m not expecting Downton Abbey out of a show like this and anyone that does is just fooling themselves. But for a “cheap thrill”, it wasn’t bad.

    I was thinking it was basically Blair Witch Project meets Survivor.

  2. I watched the first episode. It was TERRIBLE!! It is so obviously scripted. I felt like I was watching a bunch of “out of work” actors trying to deliver believable lines. IT DIDN’T WORK!!

  3. Jeff says:

    I think this is propaganda to get people to pretend stuff like “The Hunger Games” can be real before it becomes real in the future. George Carlin talked about this in a comedy thing. 10 years, 40 years before shows on TV worship sacrifice who knows when, but there is always shows to acclimate people to the idea beforehand. I hope this comment doesn’t get removed cause it ain’t politically correct.

    • Frank W says:

      Remember in the early 80s when fighting in an octagon arena was illegal? Now it was sponsored by Burger King on a main network. This is modern gladiatorial fighting. I think I heard the Carlin bit you speak off, and the guy was right.

  4. Wes says:

    I was watching this tonight and I can totally can see it turning into the Hunger Games.

  5. Larry L says:

    I accidentally watched “Siberia” tonight and was more than happy I did so! Seeing it cold was the best! (I was looking for Under the Dome, actually) I didn’t begin to suspect it was a drama until the very end. Regardless, the previews showed it’s going to go in directions no reality show could match. The Online availability means I won’t have to miss any episodes and I can’t wait to see the many ways the producers get loose & sloppy with the supposed reality formula. I would have bought a T-Shirt tonight it any were available!

    • Phred says:

      So now we have identified the exact target audience for “Siberia:” Those who were looking for a different show but did not know how to turn the channel.

      • Frank W says:

        Have you ever tried to find the logic in Xfinity’s numbering system? It’s easy to run into the wrong channel.

    • Frank W says:

      I watched it last week ON DEMAND when I kept reading here at Variety about it. I was having a lot of trouble determining if it was a real show or a scripted show, they hit all the right cylinders on the look and feel, but when they said “No rules”, well crap, someone could just murder everyone and win without waiting out winter. It seems pretty much predictable as to what is going to continue to happen, but whether on the show it is real or staged is another matter.

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