A&E’s ‘Balls’ may not roll

Insurance issues put show's future in doubt

Innovation is never easy — even in the comparative Wild West of cable programming.

Take the case of A&E, which looked like it was ready to move forward on a U.S. edition of “Balls of Steel.”

Series is a hidden-camera prank show that originated in the U.K. and is probably best known for a gag in which Tom Cruise was squirted with a water gun on the red carpet.

A&E had put the project in development, shot two episodes and was contemplating a series pickup.

But then it ran into a hurdle — insurance issues — and the show’s future is now in doubt.

The U.K. edition of “Balls,” which airs on Channel 4, features comedians accosting strangers in pranks like the “urban rodeo,” in which a comedian jumps on a stranger’s back and tries to stay on as long as possible.

Format is 12 comedians, each of whom play characters like “Militant Black Man” and “Bunny Boiler,” competing to win the title for the strongest “balls of steel” that week.

The U.S. edition, produced by Pangea, Embassy Row and Objective Prods., brought on a mostly new cast doing similar stunts. In one of the episodes, a female yoga instructor hits on a man in front of the man’s girlfriend.

Execs were said to really like the show, which used a hidden camera in a lighthearted way. But with so many suits filed after the release of “Borat,” they say they don’t know whether they could afford insurance for a full series.

The fate of the two episodes — which A&E could air without a pickup — is also unclear.

A&E must also wrestle with whether the series fits with the net’s larger brand; while nonscripted skeins like “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” have comedic elements, net has never done an overtly comic show.

Net said that it’s still evaluating the project the way it would any other and will likely make a decision soon. Meanwhile, at least two other nets are said to be circling the project and are keen to order the series if A&E doesn’t pick it up.

“This is one of the funniest shows on television, and it will find a home in the U.S. market,” said Pangea CEO Chris Coelen. “Hopefully, our partners at A&E will be able to overcome their obstacles.”

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