Holding on to reality

Stone, Stanley hope there's room for one more unscripted show

Stone Stanley Productions is one of the reality genre's busiest producers. It is the muscle behind The WB's Popstars, ABC's The Mole and three more nonscripted projects in development for syndication. And it's not done yet. The company gave B & C an early look at its latest project, a Candid Camera-ish game show called Oblivious.

The first unwitting contestant on the show and star of the demo tape was Stone Stanley partner and co-founder David G. Stanley, perhaps playing to the baby boomer's secret urge to turn the tables on Allen Funt and wipe that smile off his face.

"We wanted to make sure that even someone who knew the concept of the show (people become unwitting contestants as they answer questions posed by faux hairdressers, waiters, doctors, etc.) wouldn't catch on that we were playing the game," said Stone Stanley's other half, partner and co-founder Scott A. Stone. "If we can fool David, we knew we could fool anybody."

Or as Sharon Levy, the company's vice president of development and marketing, puts it, "My initial thought was, 'Wouldn't it be fun to use one [an agent]? They're always good for a laugh.' But we thought that the only person that couldn't sue us was David."

So, sitting down to what he thinks is a business lunch in Hollywood, Stanley answers all of the trivia questions thrown at him by his "waiter." Fortunately, for the fate of Oblivious-now getting shopped to various outlets-Stanley insists he never smelled the set-up.

"I was completely surprised when I found out at lunch that they did this. I was thrilled that the concept works as well as it works. And I was furious that they had done it," said Stanley, who admits that he's crossing his fingers for a network TV deal similar to The Mole (a Survivor on the road) and Popstars (a female Making the Band), but would accept a green light from any distribution outlet.

Following in the footsteps of many reality series, Oblivious' format originates overseas-from London-based producers Mark Baker and Steve Havers courtesy of The William Morris Agency.

In addition to The Mole and Popstars, debuting midseason of next year, Stone Stanley is readying for possible fall 2001 syndication launches The People Vs. (a revamped The Gong Show) for Columbia TriStar; All You Need Is Love (another spin on Blind Date's format) for Tribune; and Zobmondo! (based on the board game by the same name) for Studios USA.

With all this locked up in less than a year, Stone Stanley remains cautious. "As far as we're concerned it's like we're entering the lottery," said Stone. "We've had three projects before and gotten none."

Another nagging concern is a possible reality backlash, given TV critics' recent snickering over NBC's attraction to Chains of Love, in which a woman, handcuffed to a group of guys, unchains herself down to one date-worthy fellow. Last week, NBC (which prides itself on highbrow fare) finalized its pick-up of the project.

Stone Stanley is aware that going too far over the top can lead to a fall.

"Six guys on death row and determining which one of them is going to get killed? Or the Japanese show where they drag people behind tractors and watch them bleed?" asked Stone. "We don't go there."

Those latter shows come under the heading-"life is too long, and we don't want to be around to answer the questions about why we would get involved." Added Stanley, "I wouldn't want to have to take the phone call from my mother."

The duo is likewise undeterred by Fox's decision to yank (and a swift yank at that, after just two weeks on the air) its Real World-in-the-classroom series, American High.

"I hear CBS' Falcone didn't do well. Does that mean the end for dramas?" asked Stanley.

"For every 10 sitcoms that go on the air, 9 of them fail," says Stone. "Our concern is that they won't try the 10th and they just stop."

Already on the air from Stone Stanley (which formed 10 years ago after the partners met at Lorimar Telepictures) are Comedy Central's The Man Show, MTV's Loveline, the PAX Network's Shop Till You Drop and Born Lucky, and Nickelodeon Games and Sports Channels' Legends of the Hidden Temple.

But Stone Stanley hasn't forgotten their roots, even with their fattened presence within the TV industry.

"We literally get on the phone with each other and ask what we want to do for the day," says Stanley. "I've only written one memo to the company in 10 years, and I've only recently started having staff meetings."