Skein has reality on new track

Producers to take extra precaution, avoid dangerous mishaps.

You can run, but you can’t hide from the latest twist in TV’s red-hot summer fling with reality programming.

Nash Entertainment and DLT Entertainment have snagged the U.S. format rights to “Wanted!” — a U.K. series that combines elements of “The Fugitive,” “Survivor” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

U.S. version of “Wanted!” will set loose three teams of “runners” in three different cities each week. Their mission: to somehow elude capture by teams of “trackers”– former professional bounty hunters and ex-law enforcement officers charged with “arresting” the runners. All of the captures will take place on live television, with regular viewers also given a chance to join in on the game of hide-and-seek.

Fugitives will be forced to show themselves in public by performing tasks as prescribed by the show’s producers. The trackers will be given hints as to the fugitives’ whereabouts, but must find the contestants on their own.

“[The fugitives] can’t just hide in someone’s basement,” said Nash Entertainment topper Bruce Nash.

Viewers will be clued in to the fugitives’ whereabouts via the show’s web site. Contestants’ faces will also be plastered on billboards and will be featured on local newscasts a la “America’s Most Wanted.”

But fugitives can only be “caught” during a live, 90 second phone call they must make during the show’s live weekly broadcast. If the players manage to stay on the phone and not get arrested, they’re immediately whisked to another city.

Contestants win more money every week they remain out of the hands of the trackers. Conversely, the trackers win cash for every capture. And for all those amateur Bernard Goetzes out there, vigilantes are welcome to participate.

“If John Q. Public is able to arrest them, he will win the money, the bounty,” Nash said. “Anyone in America can participate.”

“Wanted!” has drawn early interest from at least three broadcast nets and one cabler. NBC and Fox, which have yet to cash in on the latest reality boom, are seen as the most likely homes for the series, according to industry observers.

Nash said he is “really in love” with the “Wanted” format.

“It’s just a fascinating, compelling show,” he said. “It’s urban survival. It’s the ‘Fugitive’ in real life. I think we’ve got a real chance at a hit here.”

Safety concerns

Given the show’s law-enforcement pedigree, Nash said producers would take extra precaution to avoid any dangerous mishaps.

“It certainly is something we have to take every precaution for, sure,” Nash said. “We have to make it very clear (that) this is a game.”

That’s especially true with the so-called “arrest,” which Nash promises won’t include physical contact of any kind.

“We have to be real careful that no one accosts them or is confused,” he said. “It’s not dangerous. We’ll have cameras on them.”

Hewland Intl. produced the U.K. version of the program in association with Channel 4. Series lasted for two seasons in the U.K, with Hewland selling versions of the skein to broadcasters in Sweden, the Netherlands, Argentina, Germany and Japan.

Nash declined to get specific about which nets are interested in “Wanted!”: “Some are really hot for it, some are considering it,” he said, adding that he felt “really good about” finding a U.S. home for the show.

Rush for reality

Nash said the reality craze has made him a popular man in network suites.

“If they’re buying, I’m selling,” he said. “It’s amazing how all of a sudden reality is so hot. Everybody’s looking for the next thing but they don’t know what it is yet. We’re all looking for the next ‘Millionaire,’ the next ‘Survivor.’

Nash warns that most of the best overseas formats have now “been combed through pretty good.”

“I think it’s going to thin out unless there’s something hiding in Yugoslavia that no one knows about,” he said. “People are going to have to start using their noodle again.”

‘Wanted’ again

Nash and DLT aren’t the first producers to try to bring “Wanted!” to the U.S. Bunim/Murray Prods. (“The Real World”) snagged domestic rights to the series in 1997 through their reps at William Morris, but their efforts to launch the show stateside failed.

Meanwhile, CBS has decided to take full advantage of “Survivor” mania by moving the premiere date of its next reality skein, “Big Brother,” to Wednesday, July 5 at 9 p.m. — immediately following a new seg of “Survivor.” The second episode of “Brother” will air July 6.

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