Reality titan Endemol USA is getting into the scripted TV business.
Company, which produces alternative hits such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Fear Factor,” has tapped former New Line TV and Hypnotic exec Laura Armstrong to head its new scripted programming division.
She’ll report to Endemol USA prexy David Goldberg, who said the company is “prepared to do whatever it takes to be a serious player” in the scripted arena. That includes hiring Armstrong and creating a significant six-figure development fund.
“I don’t think it’s safe right now to be in just one area (of television),” Goldberg told Daily Variety. “It’s becoming more crowded and competitive in reality, so you have to diversify. We don’t want to find ourselves in a place where what we’re doing isn’t as financially rewarding as it has been.”
Goldberg said Endemol USA is following a trail blazed by other parts of the international Endemol empire, which is owned by Spain’s Telefonica. Endemol has a “thriving” scripted business in Italy and is producing telenovelas in Latin America, he said.
“Our reputation has been built on nonscripted television, but as a group, we’re making a push into scripted,” he said.
It’s expected Armstrong will attempt to mine Endemol’s overseas library of scripted formats and also could acquire international formats from other companies.
Goldberg said the initial plan is “to spend a lot of money on the front” end of the business by doing blind script deals and other relatively low-risk development deals to “let the community know this is something we take seriously.”
“To make a splash, you have to really make a commitment,” he said.
If a project moves forward at a network, Endemol will then explore various financing options, including partnering with studios. That said, Goldberg said Endemol is “prepared to put up some money on a case-by- case basis” toward production costs.
Indeed, Endemol already spends significant coin on overall and talent deals with a number of unscripted producers.
Not surprisingly, given its reality TV roots, Goldberg said low-budget scripted series will be on the Endemol agenda.
“What we’ll be looking at is trying to implement some of the production techniques we’ve used in unscripted and apply that to the scripted world,” he said.
Still, “That doesn’t mean we’re not interested in shows with big pricetags, too,” Goldberg added. “We have to look at all different genres and all different price points.”
As for Armstrong, exec was most recently based at Hypnotic, the shingle run by helmer Doug Liman and producer Dave Bartis. In addition to developing all kinds of series programming, she worked with Liman and Bartis as part of the extended production team for the WBTV-produced “The OC.”
“She has the maturity and the experience to be the architect of a new division,” Goldberg said.
Before Hypnotic, Armstrong was exec VP of development and production at New Line TV. She worked on projects such as “Breaking News,” “Mortal Kombat,” the animated version of “The Mask” and the MTV telepic “Carmen.”
Upcoming unscripted projects for Endemol USA include NBC’s “I Want to Be a Hilton” and the sixth season of “Big Brother,” which is exec produced by Arnold Shapiro and Allison Grodner.