Series, set to launch tonight at 10 on NBC, was fully financed by film producer Michael Ohoven of Infinity Media (“Saved,” “Capote”) and partner Chris Philip of Sierra/Engine TV before the project was even pitched to a network. Since the skein was fully backed before being shopped around, “Siberia” was also able to skip the arduous piloting process, which would have undercut the progression of the show’s unique, slow-burn plot.
“I come from the feature world and thought, with all the risk involved but with all the potential upside, why not apply the model here?” said Ohoven to Variety. “We truly have a groundbreaking idea, something not done yet on TV.”
“Siberia” is the latest and perhaps most ambitious blending of television’s scripted and unscripted spheres, as it centers on a group of people filming a reality competition in the isolated territory of Tunguska when something goes terribly wrong. Show has already drawn journos and social media users alike to ask: “What is Siberia?” and “Is It Real or Fake?”
Ohoven of Infinity Media shepherded the concept to Philip and Nick Meyer of Sierra/Engine TV, where Philip said, “We saw the potential.”
“Our first question was: ‘Which network?'” recalled Philip. “They told us, ‘No network,’ and slowly it began to unfold: we’d completely finance a show without a net, not even one in Bulgaria. I’m involved with a lot of straight to series, low-cost orders, like ‘Cross Bones,’ ‘Black Box’ and ‘Rescue Three,’ so we knew how to pre-sell 13 episodes.”
When Ohoven and Philip teased the series at MipTV in April, NBC was intrigued by the concept, as vague as it was at the time. (The partners even had those eying jobs on “Siberia” sign NDAs in order to protect the show’s format and keep the concept under wraps.) Less than two months later, and after quick negotiations with NBC, “Siberia” secured a spot on the Peacock’s summer lineup.
While Philip and Ohoven have entered a risky game of being out of pocket on an entire series, they see lucrative returns for the show, which was shot in Canada and didn’t have much overhead.
“We basically own an NBC show,” the pair quipped.
“The upside is the rest of the world is available for us to sell to, and the NBC brand helps us sell internationally,” said Philip. The show also draws a healthier license fee from the Peacock than Canadian and European summer imports that have already aired elsewhere, Philip explained, as NBC has essentially secured its own original program for a 13-episode run.
Philip says “Siberia” has already been sold to seven countries with more territories lined up to negotiate. Its launch tonight on NBC faces competition from CBS’ summer skein “Under the Dome,” which opened strongly last Monday and showed significant gains with DVR use later in the week. Philip and Ohoven see “Siberia” as viable for a five season run, as far as the concept goes, and hope it’s renewed for a second season.
But even if the show doesn’t perform well with American auds, “Siberia” now has a buffet of international outlets that could renew it.
Ohoven and Philip hope to reproduce this TV finance model again in the near future.
“I know what sells around the world, and Michael knows how to produce with that independent feel,” stated Philip. “It’s a good partnership, and we’ve already identified a second project for this model.”