ABC, NBC set castaways

Greenlit skeins share more than a passing resemblance

HOLLYWOOD — Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale … a tale of two networks picking up similar-sounding projects about castaways stranded on a deserted island.

ABC greenlit the J.J. Abrams/Damon Lindelof pilot “Lost” on Wednesday. Project follows a group of people stuck on a Pacific island and forced to build a new society after surviving aplane crash.

NBC, meanwhile, is developing the limited-run series “Eden,” from “Suvivor” exec producer Mark Burnett, about young people on a summer study cruise who end up shipwrecked on a remote island.

Burnett has partnered with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart (“An Officer and a Gentleman”) to pen “Eden,” which would likely be produced in 13-episode installments. Burnett, Stewart and Conrad Riggs will exec produce.

“This is about complex relationships, about survival, love and death,” Burnett said. “You can deal with childbirth, you can deal with all of these things on the island that you can’t with ‘Survivor’ because it’s a reality show.”

Significant penalties are attached to the project; NBC has ordered a pilot script, a backup script and a series bible and will levy the final greenlight after execs read the scripts. According to NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker, in success, “Eden” could remain in production far beyond 13 episodes and on an almost continuous basis (similar to a daytime soap).

“This is completely in Mark Burnett’s wheelhouse,” Zucker said. “He knows all the great islands in the world. And the opportunity to continue to be in business with Mark, as he makes the transition to scripted programming, is very exciting for us.”

Burnett revealed earlier this week at a NATPE session that he was aggressively looking for major corporate sponsors to underwrite the show (Daily Variety, Jan. 20). The producer said Stewart was open to the idea, as long as it was “organic.”

Burnett plans to shoot the series on a tropical island on location.

“Certainly my crew has so much experience shooting in a remote location, it doesn’t faze me at all,” he said. “I’m used to taking a 400-person crew for up to 90 days and still coming in (at a smaller budget) than a show shot in Burbank.”

Touchstone TV, the studio behind ABC’s “Lost,” also plans to shoot that project on location.

“Portions, if not all, have to be shot in an exotic locale,” said Touchstone TV prexy Steve McPherson. “This is not something that can be shot in the Santa Monica Canyon.”

ABC had originally developed a similar concept from feature scribe Jeff Lieber and Spelling TV (Daily Variety, Oct. 21). But when that project, titled “Nowhere,” didn’t pan out, the network turned to “Alias” exec producer Abrams, who’ll exec produce with Lindelof.

Abrams and Lindelof are writing a new script for the one-hour project. ABC Entertainment TV chairman Lloyd Braun is said to be particularly high on the concept.

Both Burnett and McPherson stressed that their projects are dramatically different from one another; it’s fairly common this time of year for several similar-sounding projects to work their way into development at the nets.

“I love the competition and I have absolute confidence in the team we put together,” McPherson said. “I’m a sportsman, so bring it on.”

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