Fox's 'Utopia,' Still Casting, Parades Potential Stars for TV Critics

With the reality series demanding a year of cast members' lives, four would-be participants and the lengthy screening process come to TCA.
The Dutch "Utopia"

The ramp-up to Utopia's September premiere has been an unconventional one. A social experiment that aims to air over the course of a full year, chosen cast members will have to give up that same amount of time to build their dream "society."

Its screening process, as one can imagine, has been rigorous. And roughly four months in, having whittled the potential crop from 5,000 to fewer than 40, Fox trotted out four finalists for a preview of the series during its Television Critics Association summer press tour panel on Sunday.

"The show is due to last a year, so we were surprised and delighted so many people were willing to commit," said Fox alternative exec vp Simon Andreae. Utopia, a Dutch format from John de Mol he snatched up in January, marks the reality chief's first big swing since joining the network. "We're looking for people who have very strong skills, but with very strong mind sets and differing points of view. It's kind of like building a car."

On hand to show this off were four very different individuals — identified only by first names and home towns.

"I just graduated college, so I'm in a limbo period," said Emma, a crunchy girl in her early 20s who studied medicinal plants at Brown University. "I'm the most idealistic I'll ever be. When I found this opportunity, it was perfect for what I want to do."

Whether the selected four have already received the greenlight to join the series — they were labeled "potential pioneers — remains to be seen, but they certainly seemed to be hyping up their qualifications for the crowd of reporters, Fox execs and showrunner Conrad Green.

Green used the opportunity to outline how the series will actually play out, as details have been a bit of a mystery for those not intimately acquainted with the Netherlands original. "This isn't a show about survival, this is a show about societies," he said. In short, contestants will have shelter, resources and even a yet-to-be-determined amount of money. They'll be able to use that to deal with people outside of their compound. And Green noted that while they cannot leave their sequestered filming location, other people can come in for commercial purposes.

Character is also key. Jeremy, one of two male finalists, described himself as a devout Christian with the physical appearance of "a civil war general and an inmate that got together."

Whoever is chosen, Andreae admitted that the pressure is on but his ratings expectations are optimistic.

"What we're hoping to see is something unique play out, people across America coming together and working their differences out," he said. "It's kind of like an Ant Farm."