ABC Splitting Heirs with New Reality Series
Fri Oct 25, 4:21 AM ET
By Josef Adalian
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Call it outrageous fortune: ABC and the producer of ratings hits "The Bachelor" and "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" are developing a reality show in which the family and friends of a wealthy benefactor will compete in a do-or-die battle to win the bulk of his estate. "The Will,"
which will be produced by Mike Fleiss' Next Entertainment, could bow by the end of the 2002-03 season or next summer. Fleiss' "The Bachelor" is doing whammo Nielsen numbers for ABC. The fourth episode of America's hottest dating game pulled in 14.9 million viewers on Wednesday, just 2.6 million short of Fox's World Series baseball.
Details of "The Will" are still being finalized, with elements of the game dependent upon the man or woman who ultimately agrees to let his relatives and friends compete for the inheritance. The basic structure is pretty much set, however.
Family members and friends who take part in the series will be put through a series of challenges each week, many of them designed by the benefactor. In these weekly competitions, players will vie for a shot at some smaller portion of the benefactor's estate -- the BMW or the vacation house.
What's more, "The Will" will incorporate a vote-off portion in which friends and family members get a shot at eliminating someone from the game -- essentially cutting that person out of the will. It's possible that a group of cousins, for example, could gang up to vote out cranky Uncle Lloyd.
"Family members who have a lifetime worth of baggage will be voting each other out," Fleiss said. "It's much more interesting than a bunch of strangers doing it to each other."
Fleiss said competitions will range from trivia tests to endurance challenges.
"There will also be competitions in which the 'Willy Wonka' factor will be measured," he said. "The benefactor will be able to test their worthiness."
Most of the inheritance will likely be paid out upon the mogul's death, though Fleiss is planning to incorporate elements that will allow the winner to get some "immediate gratification" upon winning the competition. The goal is to have all the money and prizes supplied by the benefactor, but it's possible ABC could sweeten the pot.
The final decision as to who gets the loot won't be made by the benefactor, however; that will be determined by who wins of the final challenge. "It's more a pure game that way," Fleiss said.
Fleiss said he's actually looking forward to culture mavens trashing his latest project.
"I feel good about the explosive nature of this show," he said. "I love it when critics hate something and viewers love it."
In addition to controversy, "The Will" could stir up all sorts of potential legal headaches from dissed relatives or others with a claim on the money. What's more, producers need to figure out a way to ensure all the coin gets paid out upon the benefactor's death.
"I'll probably talk to 300 or 400 lawyers before this is over," he said.
Fleiss, who launches a nationwide search for contestants Friday via a Web site
, doesn't think he'll have a problem finding a family to compete.
"We're looking for someone with a lot of money and a sense of humor," he said. "You can't take it with you otherwise."
Hollywood has tackled the idea of rich folks making their relatives compete for cash -- though not in the same way Fleiss plans.
In 1983's "Easy Money," Rodney Dangerfield played a man who must change his life completely in one year in order to win his mother's $10 million booty. And the 1994 Michael J. Fox starrer "Greed" had Kirk Douglas as an eccentric millionaire who toys with his relatives as they try to curry favor with him before he passes away.