Amish running wild for reality skein

'Trek' may end as UPN eyes Wedneday sked

HOLLYWOOD — UPN is looking for America’s top Amish.

The netlet has ordered a one-hour untitled series that follows a group of Amish teens who leave their community for the first time in order to explore the outside world.

Project joins dating entry “The Player” (Daily Variety, Jan. 16) as UPN looks to capitalize on the success of its hit reality skein “America’s Next Top Model.”

Internally referred to as “Amish in the City,” the UPN series will follow five Amish cast members as they begin the religious rite of passage known as “rumspringa” (the Pennsylvania Dutch term meaning “running wild”).

As part of rumspringa, young Amish men and women go into mainstream society, where they must adapt to different social mores and modern technology. They must then ultimately decide whether to return and be baptized by the Amish church or leave the community for good.

New Line TV and Stick Figure Prods. are behind the series, in which the Amish participants will move to a major city and live in a house with five other non-Amish young adults from all walks of life. Daniel Laikind and Steven Canton, who focused on the rumspringa experience for their documentary “Devil’s Playground,” will exec produce, along with Jon Kroll (“Amazing Race”).

“This is not intended to be insulting to the Amish, but to have people who have never had television, who will walk down Rodeo Drive and be freaked out by what they see,” said CBS topper Leslie Moonves, whose oversight includes UPN. “The idea of a lot of these reality shows is fish out of water. ‘The Simple Life.’ This is in a certain way a reverse version of that.”

Moonves said he didn’t expect to run into the same kind of opposition he got at CBS when that net attempted to stage a real-life version of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

That project, in which a rural family would move into a Beverly Hills mansion for a year, was put on hold after politicians and special interest groups expressed outrage that it might mock low-income Southerners.

“We couldn’t do the ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’ and the Amish don’t have quite as good a lobbying effort,” Moonves quipped.

Meanwhile, meeting with reporters on the final day of the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, Moonves and UPN Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff unofficially picked up frosh skeins “Eve” and “All of Us,” as well as “America’s Next Top Model,” for next season.

While not formally announcing the orders, Moonves and Ostroff said the shows would return next year.

“Putting on three new shows that are keepers for next year is remarkable,” Moonves said. “Especially when you look at the fact that without wrestling there’s eight hours of programming on UPN.”

Ostroff said she’d next focus on Wednesday night, where “Star Trek: Enterprise” has struggled and isn’t a shoo-in to return.

“Our No. 1 goal is to get the numbers up on Wednesday,” she said.

Also at the UPN portion of press tour:

  • Moonves said it’s unlikely UPN will expand to a sixth night this fall given the logistics of pulling off such a feat in a limited amount of time.

Viacom prexy-chief operating officer Mel Karmazin had hinted in December he might push to expand UPN’s hours of operation (Daily Variety, Dec. 10). Such a move would need the approval of its major Fox-owned affiliates.

“I don’t know if we’re quite ready for it yet,” Moonves said.

  • Speaking of the affils, Moonves said the netlet’s major Fox-owned outlets remained “committed” to UPN. Fox extended its affiliation deal with UPN late last year, but kept in place a lawsuit against the network.

“And despite the fact that they’re still suing us for a hundred million dollars, our relationship couldn’t be better,” he quipped. “They’re sort of like the Donald Trump (who recently made headlines for publicly blasting Moonves) on the UPN side.”

  • UPN has exercised its option to renew “WWE Smackdown” for several more seasons.
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