NBC acts on Original idea for 3-series reality block

Unique pact a first for a network

NBC has inked an innovative three-series deal with "Ice Road Truckers" creator Thom Beers and producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun.

Under the pact, the network has given the green light to three hourlong action-adventure reality series from the trio to run in a programming block. The order for each series is at least 10 episodes, bringing the total of the network's on-air commitment to more than 30 hours of primetime fare.

As part of the deal, BermanBraun and Beers' Original Prods. also has received three pilot commitments for future unscripted projects.

In ordering three series simultaneously, NBC is getting network-quality unscripted shows at a lower price. For pitching in on the financing of the series, BermanBraun and Original retain international rights.

Under new programming topper Ben Silverman, NBC already has experimented with straight-to-series orders on the scripted side with "Fear Itself" and "Robinson Crusoe" — both from independent companies, Lionsgate and U.K.'s Power — at a reduced license fee. Those deals also include a guaranteed number of episodes, 13, as well as the producers retaining the series' international rights.

Ordering a full block of tonally and thematically linked reality series marks a new business and programming model for the broadcast networks.

"We've seen with two-hour 'Deal or No Deal' or 'The Biggest Loser' that airing things similar in theme back-to-back helps carry over the audience," NBC reality chief Craig Plestis said.

The three series are intended to run in a three-hour block. However, NBC has the option to run two of them in a two-hour block and hold the third as a replacement.

No decision has been made on what night of the week the block would air, but Friday and Sunday after football appear to be logical choices.

The exact concepts of the three series also are yet to be determined, but they will be in the vein of Beers' trademark docu soap series "Truckers" and "Deadliest Catch," which have been a critical and commercial success for History Channel and Discovery Channel, respectively.

NBC, Beers, Berman and Braun are sifting through the dozen different ideas the trio pitched for the three-hour block.

"Thom has so many great ideas, we're cherry-picking the best right now," Plestis said.

Good news for the fans of the Alaska-based "Truckers" and "Catch": one of the potential series is set in the Arctic circle.

Overall, veteran Turner executive-turned-producer Beers plans to stay within North America, focusing on "interesting places you won't be thinking of" in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, possibly Canada and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as to go transcontinental with one show.

While a broadcast-size budget would make for heightened production values and a "big epic feel that networks like," the new series "will stay close to our mandate at Original Prods. of real stories about real people doing real things that involve adventure, risk and reward," Beers said.

At Original, he works closely with president Philip Segal.

This is Berman, Braun and Plestis' first collaboration with Beers, someone they say they've been long-time fans of.

"These series will open Thom up to a wider audience," Plestis said. "The timing of him and BermanBraun bringing the idea was perfect in terms of being at the right place at the right time with the right producer."

Although the timing of the deal coincides with the writers strike entering a second month, both sides stress that the orders are not strike-related. Original and BermanBraun began working on the idea of a reality block long before the work stoppage began, while for NBC, the pact falls into the new business model for doing year-round programming at a lower cost.

The deal also marks the first on-air commitment by NBC for BermanBraun under the production company's wide-ranging first-look deal with NBC Universal. (BermanBraun has two upcoming series in the works at ABC, the unscripted "Duel," slated to premiere Dec. 16, and the drama "Section Eight.")

"We're really thrilled that Ben responded to the idea," Berman said.

She called BermanBraun's relationship with Original on the projects for NBC "a true partnership."

For Beers, the deal has personal significance as it gives him his first series on NBC. "That's something I grew up wanting to — to be getting a show on NBC," he said.

Now his lifelong dream has been fulfilled — thrice. "It's three times the fun and three times the work," he said.

Beers is repped by Endeavor and attorney Bob Wise.
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