The idea for "Boot Camp," one of the latest reality TV shows hitting the airwaves this season, started with a concept outlined on two pieces of paper put together by British producers eager to capitalize on the American reality craze.
The concept went something like this: There should be a show that takes place in a boot camp, where people are put through challenges by a drill sergeant until they drop out one by one. The winner gets a cash prize of at least $500,000.
If it sounds a lot like "Survivor," the CBS program that captured millions of viewers' eyeballs this summer, that isn't mere coincidence. The last 30 minutes of the final episode of "Survivor" on Aug. 23 were watched by 58 million viewers, or about one-fourth of the entire country. Even more impressive, commercials airing during the last episode sold for Super Bowl-like rates of about $500,000 for a 30-second spot. Ever since, producers and networks have been scrambling to come up with "Survivor" knockoffs.
One of them is LMNO Productions, a 10-year-old company located on "Reality Row," a stretch of Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley where a group of longtime reality TV production companies are concentrated. LMNO Productions' third-floor offices are buzzing with activity these days. There doesn't seem to be a moment to spare as the staff rushes to put together several new reality shows that are queued up like planes waiting to land on the new TV season runway. One of the most notable is "Boot Camp," which LMNO sold to the Fox network in July.
The idea was hatched in Britain early this year by Granada Media's new production division, Granada Creative. The division formed an entity called The Greenhouse Project, whose role is to come up with concepts for TV series. For the last three years, Granada and LMNO Productions have been trading formats back and forth. When the idea for "Boot Camp" was presented to Eric Schotz, head of LMNO Productions, the veteran producer loved it. He knew the concept would allow producers to tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end.
In your face "Boot Camp is an understandable concept," said Schotz, the 43-year-old executive whose company has produced "Kids Say the Darndest Things" for CBS, "Guinness World Records: Primetime" for Fox, and "Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden," for ABC. "You have a perception of what it is. People get in your face and scream We will show the growth of human potential and show individuals what they are capable of doing, even though they don't think they are capable of doing it." Networks and producers like Schotz love reality TV because it is cheap to produce (about $300,000 to $500,000 for a one-hour episode compared to $1 million to $1.5 million for a fiction-based drama or comedy) and it is a safeguard against a possible writer's strike this coming spring. After all, you don't need scriptwriters for a reality show, because there isn't any script.
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