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.
Fox will debut at least six reality shows this season. They are: "Temptation Island," in which couples whose relationships are shaky are sent to a tropical resort where beautiful singles try to tempt them away; "Love Cruise," in which up to 18 men and women are put on a boat and pair up within an hour; "In Search Of," which tries to solve mysteries; "Only Joking," a "Candid Camera"-like program; "Million-Dollar Mystery," another unsolved-mysteries program; and "Boot Camp."
Meanwhile, NBC will be airing "Chains of Love," in which four guys are chained to a single woman for several days. One by one, they are cast off until the sole survivor gets to date her. ABC will be broadcasting "The Mole," in which a planted agent seeks to divide and disrupt a group of ordinary people, all being watched by cameras.Inside the pitch
After getting the two-page concept description for "Boot Camp" earlier this year, Schotz and his crew met for about one month and fleshed-out the details of the show into a 20-page document called "the bible." The bible outlined how many participants and drill instructors would be involved in the program, where the show would be filmed, how many episodes would be broadcast, how the production company would go about casting the program (they will interview 4,000 to 7,000 candidates to come up with 16 participants) and how background checks would be done on each individual.
With a detailed package in hand, Schotz and his colleagues took the idea to their agent, Greg Lipstone, at the William Morris Agency. Together they decided they would pitch the idea to four networks: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Mike Darnell, Fox's executive vice president of specials and alternative programming, immediately liked the idea when he heard about it over the phone. "I had probably heard 40 ideas and that one struck me right way," the Fox executive said. "You have an image of a boot camp. It didn't seem like an artificial creation."
Schotz and a small entourage then formally pitched the concept to Fox in a 20-minute session last July. Using large cue cards, Schotz went through the details. Who would be on the show? Sixteen real people, five drill instructors in one boot camp. What would it be? A game of elimination. Sixteen people start. One finishes. Where would it be filmed? Somewhere in Hawaii, California or Florida. When will it be filmed? Sometime in October for 28 days. Why would these contestants go through all this? Sixteen different individual reasons. How will it be done? Eight one-hour episodes will be filmed live. During each episode, tasks will be assigned to individuals and there will be one large mission per show. How the participants accomplish the tasks determines whether they stay or get the boot. With those tidbits in hand, it only took Fox TV executives two minutes to decide they wanted "Boot Camp." An oral agreement was reached. Details of the agreement are still being worked out, Schotz said.
Now comes the hard part. They have to find 16 good participants and five drill instructors who are interesting enough to keep viewers riveted to their TV sets and boost Fox's ratings. Said Schotz: "It's going to be real people dealing with the real world." Kind of like "Survivor."
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