Lionsgate Television, known largely for sophisticated scripted cable series such as Mad Men and Weeds, is ramping up its reality television efforts by teaming with some of the biggest names in the genre.
The company has brought aboard Amazing Race creators Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri as executive producers of Instantly Rich, a lottery-style game show in which contestants enter to play via text message.
Lionsgate and mobile content company Zed partnered on the format earlier this year after it became a hit on Spain's Antena 3. They are pitching it domestically as a primetime hour. Van Munster and Doganieri's company Earthview, as well as Peter Tortorici's GroupM, are attached to produce.
All in the family
In addition, earlier this spring Lionsgate partnered with Survivor's Mark Burnett on the American adaptation of Italian family talent competition format Parenti Talenti, which Lionsgate controls in English-speaking territories. The companies are out pitching this show to U.S. networks as well.
Also, Lionsgate has a version of Paris Hilton's My BFF in the works in the Middle East, and is awaiting a decision on a renewal of freshman VH1 series Scream Queens.
Lionsgate TV Programming and Production President Kevin Beggs says the cost-effective reality business is more competitive than scripted because the barriers to entry are so low. His strategy for the company's presence in reality has been to partner with people with the best track records in the genre.
“We have to line up as many advantages as we can, picking the right formats, packaging them the right way and being in business with the best in the business,” Beggs explains to B&C. “That's how we distinguish ourselves in the marketplace.”
The Instantly Rich deal played off a partnership Lionsgate created in September 2008 with Zed to develop cross-platform synergies between mobile multimedia and TV.
The text-messaging aspect of the show figures prominently in the revenue. Contestants enter a lottery via text message, in hopes of being one of five people chosen each week to compete in challenges that help audiences decide whom to vote for as the most deserving of a cash prize.
The five finalists are notified that they have been picked to compete by a camera crew who shows up at their door.
Lionsgate is not new to the reality genre, with past shows for CBS, TV Land and WE. However, since Executive VP Barbara Wall joined the company in 2006 and has been handling much of the scripted fare, Beggs says that he has been more available to go after unscripted initiatives.
Among those efforts was a joint venture with former VH1 execs Michael Hirschorn and Stella Stolper, who produced My New BFF for MTV. They also did a version in the U.K., and a deal is being finalized for a version of the show to be produced with a network in the Middle East.