My Descent into and Out of Reality Television Part 7

Thank goodness for a great attorney! Our attorney had once been general council to a major cable channel. He’d seen the insides of some of the most lucrative television shows of the 1990’s and now he was doing his own thing. He secured us all the finer points going in. Kill fees, merchandising, re-run legalese, back-end this, back-end that, upfront monies, and percentages in perpetuity, worlds without end.

For the IRON CHEF knock-off fashion thing, we did a slapped-together prototype as proof of concept for the food chain. Our one-sheet was now an 6-7 minute animated/live action treatment. Our sample prototype was all the rage amongst the office crowd at Viacom. In it, we had a 3-D mockup of the set with superimposed contestants, models, and animated photographs of celebrities judging. (I think in particular we used Dennis Miller, J-Lo, and Donna Karen as the panelists) We’d paid a visit to garment district fashion houses and watched how fashion designers work these days. We found it only took a handful, maybe four or five designers, to be designing patterns and cuts, which were then faxed or e-mailed to Vietnam, where the patterns and the materials we produced. They’d send back samples overnight. Just like the computer hardware or television animation industry. Design it here, give to asia to make, get it back and sell it. They gave us a quick rundown of the business model of the fashion industry. We talked a few designers about how hard it would be to design something and drape a model in a few hours. They were all for it. We invited them over to the VH1 insert stage where we shot them on green screen, draping fabric over each other, superimposed them on a 3-D backgrounds, and the did cut-out animations of commentary by Miller, Karen, and J-Lo whose line were provided by comedy writers.

This actually was a very funny pitch. We called it Fashion on the Fly. Later, peripheral staff on this show would go on to develop Project Runway, which we found out was in development simulataneous with Fashion on the Fly. It is a small world and word travels fast. Actually, Project Runway was a week imitation of Fashion on the Fly, that is until Donald Trump’s The Apprentice hit.

Until The Apprentice did huge opening numbers everything was cool. The IRON CHEF was a hip, cool idea to run with, but when The Apprentice came out of the gate, all bets were off.

Project Runway shut down to re-tool itself into an “apprentice” style format. We stuck with the IRON CHEF format.

Someone once said, “immitation is the sincerest form of television.” We saw this in action. Having a show under development gave us an inside peek at all the ideas coming in as Apprentice Knock-offs. Sylvester Stalone, on the day following Apprentices’ premiere, pitched his boxing reality show. Ralph Lauren was rumored to have a fashion apprentice, America’s Next Top Model was in, Martha Stewart made her pitch, Steven Spielberg was in with a director idea, and a whole host of others. Everybody and their dog started to do an Apprentice-like show with a celebrity judge that fires all but one of the contestants. Every celebrity that had any kind of specialty started showing the week after the Apprentice took 18 Million viewers with it’s opening. In one massive zap of zeitgeist zaniness, everybody realized that this was the future of television entertainment, and that was that. We watched bemusedly as this whole frenzy started and we fully expected to be asked to retool this as an Apprentice knock-off.

The short story is that it was not long before our project was green-lit. And by green lit, that means all systems go. They pulled the trigger, time to produce this thing. Let the entire world mimic Apprentice, we will now stand out as the one show who doesn’t want to be the next Apprentice. We were going to be the next IRON CHEF!! The irony is rich.

VH1 secured the producer from Rosie O’Donnell’s recently cancelled show. and we were off to the races.

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