Fox 21 Ramps Up Reality Slate With Ryan Murphy and Ashton Kutcher Projects (Exclusive)
Bert Salke, president of the 20th Television offshoot since September, embraces unscripted projects like "Geek Meets Girl," "Model Apartment."
Bert Salke has a confession to make. He's a reality television junkie.
"For someone who has made his living in one-hour television for the last however many years, I hate to admit it –and I'll be vilified- but I just love it," says the Fox 21 president. "I think it's really compelling, the good and the bad."
So it's only appropriate that Salke, who has been running the lower-cost offshoot of TV powerhouse 20th Television since September, is ramping up its unscripted slate. Though one of Fox 21's earliest successes was the CW reality series Beauty and the Geek, the studio hadn't returned to the genre in any significant way since. (More recent offerings include FX's hit Sons of Anarchy and A&E's Breakout Kings, both scripted.) Its parent studio, along with many of its rivals, had similarly ignored the unscripted genre, leaving what Salke sees as an opening.
Fox 21's reality slate:
-- Model Apartment, from Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy, will give viewers a window into the world of competitive modeling in Manhattan. Murphy and fellow Glee executive producer Dante Di Loreto join Unzipped director Douglas Keeve as executive producers. Aware of the demands on Murphy, both by Fox (home to Glee) and FX (home to the America Horror Story project), Salke downplays his Model commitment, arguing a series will require Murphy's instincts and style without his day-to-day oversight. Sold to A&E.
-- Family Bonding, which plays on the idea that the average family spends just 45 minutes a day together. If ultimately picked up to series, the project, from Krasnow Prods., will explore what happens when a parent and teen are handcuffed together for 45 hours. Sold to A&E.
-- All About Annette, a comedy from Joke Prods., centers on the zany work and home life of globe-trotting photo stylist Annette Joseph. Offers in from several femme-skewing cable networks.
-- Geek Meets Girl, a syndicated dating strip, inspired by Beauty and the Geek. Like the original, the 30-minute episodes hail from Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst Films and producer Nick Santora. Nearing deals for clearance in 80% of the country.
-- Come Back, born out of the studio's relationship with Live Nation from the Glee Tour. The concert giant will stage a live stage show competition that gives one hit wonders and other blasts from the past a chance to win a spot on a major tour. Being prepped to shop to broadcast networks.
"Unscripted is the one area where I'm going to sell to broadcast," Salke says, "Frankly, I'm more interested in selling to broadcast right now than I'm am to cable – or at least as interested." In the next month or so, he says he has plans to go out to the broadcast networks with at least three more unscripted pitches. (The pace was to be expected with Salke at the helm -- in the last half decade at ABC Studios, where he and his former producing partner Chris Brancato had a deal, he developed a staggering 35 scripts, 11 of which were made into pilots.)
To be sure, Salke and his 21 team, lead by his top creative lieutenant Jane Francis, have no plans to scale back on the scripted. Much the opposite. The studio has projects in development with Tim Minear, Shawn Ryan and Jason Isaacs; and high hopes pinned on Showtime pilot Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damien Lewis.