Fox Putting on the Dog
Mon Jan 6, 2:51 AM ET
By Josef Adalian
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Fox is developing a trio of out-there reality specials -- including a doggie beauty pageant some are dubbing "Miss Bitch" and a multi-species athletic competition boasting, among other things, a team of little people squaring off against an 8,000 lb. elephant.
While the networks prepare to unleash a torrent of new unscripted series over the next three months, Fox reality chief Mike Darnell said one-off specials like the threesome being produced by LMNO Prods. remain a key part of his programming strategy.
Adding to their importance is Fox's decision to try to use 9 p.m. Monday as a sort of reality wheel. Following the conclusion of "Joe Millionaire," which premieres Monday night, Fox will use the slot to launch the seven-episode series "Married by America" in early March.
ABC is trying a similar plan with Wednesdays at 9 p.m., while CBS uses Thursdays at 8 p.m. for "Survivor," "Big Brother" and, starting this week, "Star Search Live."
"These specials are very important to fill holes in a schedule or to give you a (ratings) boost during sweeps or at other times you need them," Darnell told Daily Variety. "But you also hope that, in success, they can turn into a regular series or a series of specials. Instead of testing a pilot, you just air the special."
REALITY RATINGS RICH
Darnell notes that "World's Scariest Police Chases" did so well as a special that it ultimately turned into a weekly series. And past Darnell gems such as "Celebrity Boxing," "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" and "Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed" have given Fox some of its best ratings ever.
The key to a successful Fox special is something with a concept that nearly promotes itself.
"Unlike a reality show, you don't have four or five weeks to air ads," Darnell said. "You have to count on publicity and water cooler talk. They have to be provocative, almost conversation starters."
Both Darnell and LMNO chief Eric Schotz have high hopes for the three greenlit LMNO specials, all of which are seen as potential franchises:
= "Man vs. Beast," the multispecies competition airing Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 9 p.m., will feature humans and animals going head-to-head in a series of competitions. Steve Santagati ("Bachelorettes in Alaska") hosts.
In addition to the midgets vs. elephant battle -- in which the two teams will compete to see who can pull a DC-10 across a desert field fastest -- highlights of the hour include 132-lb. hot dog-eating champ Takeru Kobayashi trying to outswallow a 1,000 lb. Kodiak bear, and world-class sprinter Shawn Crawford racing against a giraffe and a zebra.
Also planned: a sumo wrestler vs. orangutan tug of war, and a chimp vs. soldier obstacle course race. Celeb commentators will be on hand to offer play-by-play, including Carl Lewis and Michael Buffer ("Let's get ready to rumble!")
"Of all the things we've worked on, I think this has huge potential," said Schotz.
"Everyone will play along with this. Our production guys were all betting on whether the man or beast would win."
Reps from the Humane Society monitored all the action, and producers were careful not to ask the animals to perform any task deemed unnatural for their species.
= The doggie beauty pageant -- pegged "Miss Bitch" by some industry insiders, but officially known as the "Miss American Dog Pageant"-- will essentially be "'Best in Show' meets Miss America" Schotz said.
Added Darnell: "For all the world, it'll look like Miss America, but it's going to be dogs. And people love dogs."
Indeed, NBC's first broadcast of the annual Westminster Kennel Club competition drew dog-gone great Nielsen numbers Thanksgiving Day.
Casting has already begun on the special, which will seek contestants from all 50 states. Femme canines will compete in talent and evening wear competition; they'll even don sashes and be evaluated by celeb judges.
"There'll be a cash prize and all the kibble the dogs can eat," Schotz quipped.
= "101 Things Removed from the Human Body" features amazing-but-true tales of people who have either ingested or been impaled by foreign objects -- and survived. The special will also focus on weird things growing inside people.
"This is a show that will stop traffic," Schotz said.
LMNO's credits include "Behind Closed Doors With Joan Lunden," "Final Justice," "WinTuition," "Boot Camp" and "Kids Say the Darndest Things."