NEW YORK — As “Survivor,” “Temptation Island” and “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” continue to draw big ratings for their respective networks, what’s the audience potential of a proposed new reality show in which host Donald Trump challenges contestants to spend $1 million in half an hour?
Show creator David Anson Russo is about to find out, when he shops to networks next week “Billionaire,” a reality half-hour hosted by The Donald from his perch atop Trump Towers. Russo is the creator of “Combat Missions,” the upcoming USA Network reality series that he’s exec producing with “Survivor” architect Mark Burnett.
“Billionaire” would be the first regular TV role for Trump, the real estate magnate who has casinos and skyscrapers in his portfolio and is the personification of the benefits of material wealth. Trump’s role will be to usher in a new group of millionaires into his exclusive club: the ones who survive the surprisingly difficult task of finding ways to spend the cash in 30 minutes, or at least get closer than three competitors on the same mission.
Russo will exec produce with Barry Berk, a vet producer of “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood.” The show will select four contestants each week to take the $1 million challenge, with all of them asked to compete on the spur of the moment when they are under duress.
“Seen atop Trump Towers, Donald will bookend the show looking at a bank of monitors that will show the four contestants,” said Russo. “The show has a premise as irresistible as ‘Indecent Proposal,’ giving people 30 minutes to realize the American dream.”
“I like the selection process, because they’ll be taking people in strange situations,” Trump said. “They will be enlisted when they’re about to get married or there’ll be a husband in a delivery room, waiting for the birth of his child. He can take a pass, or say, ‘Honey, I’ll be back in an hour.’ ”
Trump said the show reminded him of what was one of his fave childhood TV favorites, “Millionaire” (naturally). That drama launched on CBS in 1955 and ran five seasons, using the fictitious premise that an eccentric billionaire named John Beresford Tipton bestowed a tax free $1 million sum to an average person.
“Billionaire” creator Russo is an artist and author who has written 11 books for Simon & Schuster and launched about 60 licensed products. He first engaged “Survivor” magnate Burnett on “Combat Missions,” which pits the elite in military and law enforcement groups against each other on a clandestine desert set. USA has committed to 16 episodes.
In “Billionaire,” Russo said the contestants can’t use the phone or computer to broker a transaction, and are limited to a $200,000 cap on any single item. There will be incentives and bonuses, which will allow contestants to buy extra minutes to spend their cash. The contestant who spends the most gets to keep the loot or the monetary equivalent.
Russo and his reps at ICM will meet with CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox network, looking for a minimum 13-episode commitment for a show that could be on the air by the summer or fall. Trump, who’s plenty busy running his empire, will be helped by four subhosts who’ll tail the contestants on the road.
“I will make sure I devote enough time to do it right,” said Trump.
WHATEVER THE NAME, ACTOR STORMS “CASTLE”: Clifton Collins Jr., who has just landed a supporting role alongside Robert Redford and James Gandolfini in DreamWorks’ drama “The Castle,” is becoming an established bigscreen name. Two names, actually. Collins, seen in “Tigerland” and “Traffic,” made a sparkling debut under the name Clifton Gonzales Gonzales, going toe to toe with Samuel L. Jackson in the schoolhouse drama “187.” The actor took his stage name to honor his grandfather, Pedro Gonzales Gonzales, an actor who had a long movie career working alongside the likes of John Wayne and Howard Hawks. Three days before shooting a scene in “187” in which he dies in a game of Russian roulette, the actor’s father, Clifton Collins, took his own life. Out of respect, the young actor began getting billed by his real name, Collins. He found, though, that it brought the hidden blessing of enabling him to be considered for roles other than angry Latino students or drug dealers. “When I did ‘Tigerland,’ Joel Schumacher told everyone at a table reading that I was one of the top five auditions he had ever seen,” said Collins. “I was playing a Southern boy from Louisiana, and he said this in front of the cast. When I started, my managers said I could never play white roles.”
ANDERSON BAITS “SQUID” TALE: Wes Anderson, now working on “The Royal Tenenbaums,” is joining up with Gotham producer Peter Newman to produce “The Squid and the Whale,” a comedy written and to be directed by Noah Baumbach (“Kicking and Screaming”). The pic, which is about to go out for coin and cast, is an offbeat comedy about two teen brothers who are bearing up in a highly unusual family situation that turns the pic into a young “Kramer vs. Kramer.” The expectation is that a hip cast that Anderson-related pics usually draw will take the “Squid” bait for a post-strike production start.