Fox Gambles on Big, Bold and Expensive Vision of ‘Utopia’

Fox Gambles on Big, Bold and

Fox is betting big bucks and a big chunk of its fall schedule on “Utopia,” an elaborate reality series that challenges 15 participants to build their own mini-society over a year’s time on a secluded five-acre site in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Fox aims to run “Utopia” for a full year, kicking off with a three-night premiere that starts Sept. 7 and episodes airing twice a week for several weeks thereafter. Beyond that, there’s an elaborate live-streaming service offering a 24/7 look at the goings on in the compound, including an no-holds-barred paid service.

“Utopia” would be a big gamble for any network, but it comes to Fox at a time of big transition for the network. Kevin Reilly, the exec who championed the project, exited his post as Fox Broadcasting chairman in June. The subsequent restructuring has brought in a new exec team — entertainment prez David Madden and Fox TV Group chairman-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman — who are inheriting Reilly’s 2014-15 slate.

Moreover, “Utopia” is the first big swing to come from Simon Andreae, who joined the network as exec VP of alternative programming last October. The series is the brainchild of John de Mol, the creator of “Big Brother” and topper of Talpa TV. The Dutch version of “Utopia” became a hit when it premiered in January.

Amid anecdotal signs that buzz on the series is low, Fox lifted the veil on the “Utopia” compound for journos on Thursday. A group of reporters were bused to the site from the Fox lot and allowed to roam around the grounds to get a sense of the production’s scope.

There’s no doubt that Fox has sunk major bucks and resources into creating the camera-filled site that takes the “Big Brother” concept to a new level with its expansive exteriors. A source close to the situation said that Fox’s internal tracking shows awareness and intent-to-view levels on “Utopia” are higher than usual for an unscripted show in the weeks prior to launch.

Also, “Utopia” hasn’t had much beyond the most generic of marketing efforts until last week because producers wanted to ensure that the 15 participants were sequestered at a hotel before the promo campaign began. Producers are determined to make sure the 15 people do not cross paths until they enter the “Utopia” site.

The 15 “Utopians” are set to move in on Aug. 29, when the live-streaming feed on begins. Viewers can either watch 20 minutes a day for free or an unlimited feed for $4.99 a month.

“We’re trying to make this a sandbox for them to play in,” said “Utopia” exec producer Conrad Green, who spent the past eight years exec producing ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”

Purpose built for the production, the “Utopia” compound is outfitted with a self-filtering lake, one pre-set housing structure for Utopia’s citizens, and a barn – currently the home of two dairy cows and twelve chickens that will become the responsibility of the society. There is no electricity, no water and no plumbing.

With the help of 129 robotic cameras the team will capture approximately 288 hours of film a day from the goings-on behind the gates of Utopia. The production will also boast an around-the-clock post-production team, monitoring the cameras, logging footage, editing and developing story for broadcast. No crew members will be present on the property itself — barring emergencies or necessary camera repairs — in an effort to create what Green calls “naturalistic storytelling.”

Producers could not comment on the cost of creating the vast setting, including on-site production, though Green noted that landscaping cost alone for the property was “not insignificant.”

The show is counting on following the 15 participants for a year as they strive to develop and manage a new society and integrate it with the outside world without leaving the property.

“The hope is that all of these people have the potential to be here a year,” Green assured reporters.  There is no grand prize or winner at the end of the series, posing the question of what exactly is the draw for viewers to tune-in twice a week.

Producers are hoping that viewers will find something relatable in watching how the Utopians learn to survive. “You see what people can actually achieve in a realistic way,” said Green, “this should be about things we can achieve ourselves.”

The citizens will start off their year with a sum of money, somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000, and will have to decide how to spend it, develop their own economy and build onto the existing structures at the compound should they desire. They are allowed a bag when they move in, though are barred from bringing any electronics or entertainment reading beyond the Bible or certain instruction manuals, and will have minimal communication with the production team to facilitate their function as a society.

They have even been given fish and wildlife training, though every decision the society makes will have to comply with California law.

“What’s interesting is what people’s priorities are,” Green added of the cast’s potential to co-exist. “We tried to find people who reflected everything,” he said. Individuals moving into Utopia include a pastor, a general contractor, a professional belly dancer, an ex-con and Amanda, a pregnant women, due to deliver in December.

Exec producer Jon Kroll commented that in casting for the series, producers believed the pregnancy “could be a really fascinating aspect if we can overcome the many hurdles.” According to Kroll, Amanda has worked with the show to protect her health, though she plans to keep the pregnancy a secret for as long as she can while in Utopia.

Of course, the team has set in place contingencies upon contingencies in the case of various hazards to the society. Plans have been made in case of wildfires, wild animal encounters, medical emergencies and more, as well as established partnerships with local law enforcement and emergency services.

“It is a TV show — it’s not our desire to get anyone hurt,” Kroll said in explaining the structure set up for the production, which also includes one of the exec producers being on call at any given time and a PA system for production staff to alert the Utopians of any danger.

Should the extreme conditions become too much for any of the cast, they are free to leave at any moment – though they are not allowed to return.  New participants will come to take their place.

“No one’s imprisoned here,” said Green. “It isn’t meant to be like a goldfish bowl where they’re completely isolated – we want it to feel like the real world but also something special.”

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

(Pictured: Conrad Green, far right, speaking to journalists at Thursday’s press preview) 




Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 112

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Yarply Twelve says:

    they don’t call these shows programs for nothing. Come on people, wake up and turn it off.

  2. bogtrotter52 says:

    I will add this to the very long list of reality shows that I have never wasted my time watching

    • suds whynn says:

      Agree, folks are looking for value programs with a real story.
      TV shows are awful. Zero enjoyment. Just trash, over and over.
      I use the Library to check out books to read. TV seems to think someone is interested in sex, trash subjects or fighting… That is not entertainment.

  3. al says:

    values clarification for adults, how cute. pass.

  4. Glennc says:

    I don’t know about this. It sounds boring. In today’s society you need things that will not have the viewer wait too long for the movement to happen. Short attention spans out there. If this bombs then I guess heads will roll?! All that money!

  5. Jim Foles says:

    How about a show call “Surviving the Great Society” Have two white dudes with hidden go pro cameras make it 5 miles through south chicago on foot. then have two black dudes make it through naperville, il the same walking distance on foot. you have to use the side streets only, It would be the number one show on tv.

  6. Joe says:

    I see fail written all over this.

  7. Missiondweller says:

    I’d love to see two going on simultaneously: Liberal society vs Conservative, both societies with the EXACT same resources.

    • garretso says:

      “I am Number Two.”
      “Who is Number One?”
      “You are Number Six!”

    • Vasco says:

      first 2 weeks in LIb society will be peace, love and Burning Man followed by 3 seasons of attacking the successful but less interesting to watch, (no drama between unwed pregnant woman and gay, choreographers to watch) Conservative society by calling them all racists for not taking care of the now broke LIb society

  8. 5 acres…. and they need to hunt and fish… They will all starve

  9. I would hardly describe 5 acres in terms of its “scope”, requiring one to “roam” or being “expansive.” If it’s a square, it would take about 45 seconds to walk across.
    Still, I’m interested to see how this all plays out. I imagine the media will be picking it apart for the next year, whether it’s a success or it turns into Lord of the Flies.

  10. ed says:

    I’d rather watch paint dry.

  11. guest says:

    Ooooohhhh! How exciting, another ‘reality’ show, this time one that is on all the time, every day. I might just have to quit my job!! (I hope I don’t have to say this is pretty heavy sarcasm)

  12. A.Men says:

    Can’t wait to see it! Sounds timely and terrific!

  13. toetagger says:

    Contemporary TV programming has reinvigorated the ages-old art of yawning and channel surfing.

  14. Florida Jim says:

    Fox is simply another trashy network Fox News and Fox Business are the only good networks the rest are worthless and I will soon be dropping them. AS we see the sports networks become political why watch them? When you see how Al Gore made millions off a minimally watched goofy site-CURRENT-and then sold it for $500,000,000, to our enemy Al Jazeera, doesn’t that tell us we are fools for not demanding better shows.

  15. abunudnik says:

    This costs money? Do you think I’m an idiot? Reality shows are super cheap.

  16. The only thing I ever watch Fox for anymore these days is sports and occasionally the local news. Haven’t watched the Simpsons in years or any other of their cartoon network lineup, and any good show that they ever get, ends up dying after a season anyway (Firefly anyone?) So I’m not interested in another boring reality show like Big Brother. Screw that crap.

  17. ralph martin says:

    Yea i think ill pass. AS others have said, it seems completely lame aside from those sad souls that love reality shows.

  18. am_underground says:

    Didn’t read a thing here that makes me want to watch it. One, the creator is the same as Big Brother, who watches that POS? Second, they have to form this new mini society within all of California laws, UTOPIA should not adhere to any existing laws. That’s what a new society would be, new laws and rules to live by. The whole thing will be a fashion show, pretty and sexy females and males with a reason to hook up. Oh boy, that’s new concept to television, not.

  19. Meme says:

    Still don’t understand the reason for this program. Reminds me of the PBS series some years back where people were brought to live back in the 1800s with only the food, clothes, housing and tools available to people during that era to see if today’s people could survive. Most did not and found it extremely difficult to cope.

  20. Najah Ferrell says:

    I like the fact that they are allowed to bring The Bible with them. This brings true spiritual survival to the people in Utopia!!! God bless you for making that choice!!

  21. 'Tis I says:

    If there’s drama, it ain’t Utopia. So…I vote cancelled already. Dumb idea.

  22. BrucethePal says:

    I already live in Utopia…….Thanks Oblamea!

  23. Mike Nunn says:

    Saw the promo – about barfed. Another fake ‘reality’ series? Really? THAT is the best they could come up with? I’d rather watch Ren and Stimpy reruns; at least that has more reality in it than these fake reality shows.

  24. LuJr75 says:

    Just another reason to not tune in.

  25. jaysf says:

    give me a bag of cannibis seeds, a year supply of italian wine and a village full of single women. Im signing up. for a plot twist how about an islander is secretly smuggling mexicans into california under obama executive order?

  26. jaysf says:

    do people still watch tv programs? Television networks are so last century.

  27. jaysf says:

    Let them bring a bible? how about a deprogramming manual about how to break free from christian brainwashing? utopia finished before it even begins.

  28. jackdeth72 says:

    Won’t last one season.

    Six episodes before the series inexplicably goes on “hiatus”. And never returns.

    Kind of like ‘Firefly’ and ‘Almost Human’.

  29. xfiler93 says:

    So, in essence, this is just like BROTHER On CBS. The sickening and degenerate crap that keeps filling the airwaves……disgusting.

  30. D says:

    They’ve already failed the utopia part because I can’t imagine any utopia have constant surveillance…

  31. cdsudduthSud1 says:

    “Individuals moving into Utopia include a pastor, a general contractor, a professional belly dancer, an ex-con and Amanda, a pregnant women, due to deliver in December.”

    And I thought every utopia was supposed to have a community organizer… but I guess the ex-con is close enough

  32. Actually, What I think they should have done with this “Utopia” idea is divide into two teams of predetermined (as best as possible) “Liberals” and “Conservatives”. Let each develop their Utopian world. Come back in a year and see who is on top. This would be a interesting case study to be sure!

  33. Nanny Mo says:

    I want to see clever drama, not reality. I can see boring reality out my window.

  34. DarkStarAz says:

    Should do a group on a space station…

  35. Kate says:

    Ugh, not another reality show. Sick of them.

    • James Bernard says:

      Can just imagine the qualifying “questionnaire” ?

      ATTN: Contestants for the TV Show UTOPIA

      Do you believe in a Supreme Being ?
      Do you believe in abstinence before marriage ?
      Are you a voting Republican?
      Do you “know” anyone who’s mentioned the word “teaparty” ?
      Do you think the federal deficit ($ 18 Trillion ) is too High ?
      Do you support the concept of heterosexuality ?
      Did you vote for Mitt Romney ?
      Do you believe that President Obama is doing a poor job ?
      Do you support the U.S. constitution ?
      Do you believe the “republican” ( small “r” ) form of Govt Is better than ALL other nations ?
      Do you support the nation of Israel ?
      Do you believe that nature “controls” the weather on a global scale ?

      If you answered “yes” to ANY of these questions……….then SORRY
      “there is NO soup for you”…….NEXT (applicant)

  36. jgdp says:

    MORE worthless tv drivel!

  37. SSGTNELSON says:

    I’m going to guess this is nothing more than an attempt to pass of some sort of socialist utopia… any takers?

  38. Leon A Davis says:

    Sounds like a stupid idea. What’s the point? Reminds me of the old story about the CEO of a dog food company who decided that they needed a new flavor of dog food. So he got all the best minds in his company together and they brainstormed a new recipe. They whipped up a batch and everyone declared it to be a winner. They put it into production and when the first cans rolled off the line, one of the workers opened one up and chucked it into the factory guard dog’s bowl. The mutt took one sniff and backed away. No amount of coaxing could get the dog to take a bite. So they called the CEO. “The dog won’t eat the food!”
    That’s Hollywood’s problem. They neglect the end user. The customer. Television networks churn out garbage mixed with huge blocks of garbage commercials, and then wonder why less and less people are watching that garbage. Without knowing anything about it, “Utopia” sounds like a loser idea dreamed up by a bunch of Hollywood losers who don’t know anyone in a red state. . .

  39. andrew says:

    This series has no chance. the concept is stupid

  40. Denise says:

    5 acres is not nearly enough. 4 people need at least one acre of garden for a year supply of food, and that doesn’t include livestock, etc.

  41. sailordude says:

    What’s the point? Do they get to kill each other off? What? They build a village? Oh my gawd that sounds really boring. Can the others set fire to it or like pull out just enough nails that it falls down upon the others? What?

  42. David Lemoine says:

    Way before it’s time was a weekly called “New People”.

  43. Cimarron says:

    Most “reality” shows are a long way from reality! Mostly a bunch of junk that people buy into!

  44. @Hotspurrr says:

    What crap! How can a network with the best news team keep pumping out such vulgarian garbage (rhetorical question)

  45. David Francis says:

    If they want it to feel like the real world, why in the Sam Hill are they in California? That is anywhere but the real world.

  46. Brangelina says:

    I would prefer they brought back Terra Nova. It was dropped after a year for being too expensive (or so we were led to believe)

  47. Rubba Dub says:

    Spare change, any spare change sir? God Bless you, sir…

  48. Sammie says:

    I bet it won’t be any different than any other “reality” show, back stabbing, scheming, bragging, sleeping around etc etc.
    I’ll pass thanks.

    • Mr. Raceboy says:

      Hell, just put a bunch of cameras in some project in Detroit. That I would watch and it wouldn’t cost them anything.

      • James Bernard says:

        They tried that recently in Missouri. Ratings were good for about 6 days. Even Al Sharpton got bored.

    • skilpatrick22 says:

      In 1904, Gandhi established a commune in South Africa. A commune is a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities with all members livings as equals. He encouraged the people who lived there to ignore class differences, particularly the caste system, a rigid social structure that discriminated against many Indian people.

      • lectorconstans says:

        Thanks for that note. I didn’t know that about Gandhi. (Search for Tolstoy Farm) He was an exceptional man; it would take someone like him to lead a successful commune – especially with today’s people, who are immersed in selfishness rather than selflessness.

        The farm grew to about 50 people and 30 children.

        ” After the suspension of passive resistance, most of the families left the farm.”

        He considered the Farm as key to the success of his struggle.

        It’s worth following up on the story of Tolstoy Farm

      • Good point. But it took another 85 to 90 years despite Gandhi, for MILLIONS of Indians to escape their poverty thanks to good ol’ CAPITALISM !!!

More TV News from Variety