Webs rush for real deal

Pitch season brings dose of reality with 'Boot,' 'Runner'

Fox may be headed to “Boot Camp,” while ABC could soon snag “The Runner” as reality format fever continues to boil over at the networks.

With the pitches coming fast and furiously, Alphabet web is said to be close to a deal with exec producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for “The Runner,” a nonfiction take on “The Fugitive” in which a lone contestant must elude capture by average citizens.

Fox, meanwhile, is in negotiations with LMNO Prods. for “Boot Camp,” a weekly peeper in which 20 contestants are put through the physical and psychological equivalent of the Navy SEAL’s Hell Week. LMNO, led by prexy and CEO Eric Schotz, acquired the format from Granada and London Weekend Television and has shopped the concept to several webs; industry insiders consider Fox to be the most likely home for the project.

Summer vacation season seems to have been put on hold as network programming execs take one pitch meeting after another regarding various reality or voyeur TV concepts similar to “Survivor” or “Big Brother.” Other hot prospects include:

  • Endemol has serious interest from at least one buyer for “The Bus,” which takes the company’s “Big Brother” concept and puts it on wheels.

  • Fox has had discussions about “One Against the World,” an interactive quizzer from Studios USA. Show forces contestants to answer general knowledge questions submitted by viewers via the Internet.

  • Fox is also negotiating with Nash Entertainment for the rights to “Wanted,” which, like “The Runner,” puts contestants on the lam.

“It’s worse than pilot season,” one frazzled webhead said of the seemingly endless pitches. “There’s so much going on so fast, it’s hard to react. If you pause for a beat, you miss out.”

That seems to be the case with Affleck and Damon’s “The Runner.” At least two webs were interested in the skein, but ABC stepped up quickly with an offer industry sources said includes significant episodic penalties if the web fails to produce 13 episodes of the project.

Concept of “The Runner” has a single contestant crisscrossing a given geographical area, charged with performing specific missions in public areas. Viewers are tipped off to the possible location of the runner; the longer the fugitive avoids capture, the more money said player wins.

ABC declined comment on “The Runner.”

LMNO’s “Boot Camp,” developed in conjunction with Marcus Plantin, Granada Creative’s international format director, has more in common with CBS’ “Survivor.”

A source familiar with the format said “Boot Camp” would not focus on the pain and humiliation of contestants. “It’s not about kicking dirt in their faces. This is about the human spirit and what it’s capable of,” the insider said.

Players will be kicked out of “Boot Camp” on a weekly basis, though not by their fellow players.

LMNO declined to comment on “Boot Camp,” except to confirm it had acquired the format and that several webs were interested.

Webheads buying the latest reality pitches said they’re trying to avoid the mistakes of last fall, when the instant success of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” resulted in a slew of clone quizzers. Programmers believe these latest projects are more than cheap ripoffs.

“The prize is going to go to the network with the next big idea, not the next ‘Survivor,’ ” said one net insider.

NBC is also desperately trying to get into the new game, but insiders there are also trying to avoid duplication.

“If we’re going to be number two or three into the boat, we want to be original,” one Peacock source said.

LMNO’s Schotz agrees, saying webs “need to find something that’s a pre-sold idea but not an exact copy” of shows already on the air.

Schotz has several projects in the works, including a panel quizzer called “Wanna Bet?” (celebrities wager on whether average Joes will perform certain daring acts) and “In the Dark” (a Brit gameshow in which players compete in total darkness). The WB made an unsuccessful stab at the latter format a few years ago.

LMNO has also sold a spec/backdoor pilot to Fox called “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Show removes players from civilization for a week and then has them compete to see who can correctly answer questions about current events and what happened in the personal lives of their friends and relatives.

Affleck and Damon are repped by CAA.

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