NBC orders celeb genealogy series

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If exploring the lives of celebrities seems a little tired, NBC has a solution: Find their relatives.

The network has ordered a genealogy reality series called "Who Do You Think You Are" from U.K. production house Wall to Wall (PBS' "Frontier House") in association with Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky's Is or Isn't Entertainment.

The one-hour series is based on the hit British series where stars are shown the oft-surprising details of their ancestors' lives. In the U.K. version, the uncovered backstories included tales of bigamy, wartime heroism and, in one case, attempted murder. Celebrity participants often are brought to tears as they learn about their relatives' hardships.

"It's about people trying to figure out a sense of identity, and we've discovered it's an emotional journey," Wall to Wall CEO and show creator Alex Graham said. "Everybody has a great story. When confronted by that great story, no matter how practiced you are in front of the camera, it's very incredibly moving."

NBC has given the project a series order contingent on finding a suitable celebrity cast. Producers are researching the family trees of several interested celebrity candidates to see whether they have compelling backgrounds (the network declined to name the candidates).

"It's great storytelling, a journey of self-discovery for these celebrities and truly moving and life-changing," said Craig Plestis, executive vp alternative programming at NBC. "You often see a very different side of them."

The network expects the show to largely retain the British original's format. Graham will executive produce the U.S. version along with Is or Isn't partners Kudrow, Bucatinsky and Don Roos.

The order from NBC marks the first major commitment for Is or Isn't in the reality area. On the scripted side, the company is under a two-year, first-look deal with NBC Uni's Universal Media Studios.

The former "Friends" star and Bucatinsky previously were based at Warner Bros. TV, where they produced such scripted projects as HBO's comedy series "The Comeback," which starred Kudrow.

Celebrity-based reality shows have been on the rise, fueled by the success of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." NBC found success with "The Celebrity Apprentice" this season and has "Celebrity Circus," premiering this summer.

"Who Do You Think You Are," which launched in 2004, will air its fifth season on BBC1 this year. Its fourth-season premiere in the summer scored the show's highest rating ever, with 6.8 million viewers tuning in.

The show is credited with sparking an interest in genealogy among many BBC viewers. Last year, BBC Magazines began publishing Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, a monthly publication about tracing one's family tree. Versions of "Who Do You Think You Are" also are in production in Canada and Australia.

Is or Isn't is repped by Endeavor.
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