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Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley are getting back to their roots.
A year or so after U.K. behemoth ITV acquired a controlling stake in their production company, DiGa, the MTV vets are heading to Realscreen with a full slate of projects that are illustrative of their taste. “Liz and I tend to like things that relate to pop culture directly, things that we feel would resonate in pop culture and things that are reflective of it and that have that youthful attitude, even if it’s not necessarily being done for that specific audience,” says DiSanto, with Gateley adding: “It’s about things that are going to appeal to a broad audience in a fun way.”
The partners credit their year-old set-up with iTV for allowing them to focus on the creative end of their business. “On a macro level, it allows us to really focus on the creative, which is what Tony and I are best at doing,” says Gateley, a reality vet who founded the production company with DiSanto in early 2011. This month, their New York-based company is in production on three new unscripted series, two of which they’re ready to discuss. The first, The Ed Bassmaster Show, is being produced for CMT, while the latter, Say It In Song, is a hidden camera music series being done for MTV International. (It’s not clear at this stage whether the series will air domestically on MTV.)
Ed Bassmaster will center on the popular comic, who boasts 1 billion views on YouTube. Each half-hour installment will feature Bassmaster’s ridiculous batch of characters, which he’ll use to surprise, confuse and sometimes prank unsuspecting people across America. “He’s almost like Ali G meets Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor,” says DiSanto, noting that the show will serve up a mix of fictional characters and scenarios with those of the real world. He and Gateley, who have been courting the comic for years, will also work with Bassmaster to add more characters to his already vast repertoire.
Both DiSanto and Gateley have been pitching Say It In Song as an original take on the music genre. The concept was initially inspired by pivotal scenes from movies such as 10 Things I Hate About You (Heath Ledger’s character singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You) and Say Anything (John Cusack holding up the boom-box). At its core, the show will be about ordinary people using music in a variety of creative ways to get a message across to someone close to them. “It’s a musical caper, almost like a Punk’d meets Oceans 11,” says DiSanto, who adds: “It’s not a performance show or a flash-mob show, it’s about the creative use of music and a surprise attack on somebody to get a message across.”
Among the other entries DiGa has in development: Desperately Seeking Sugar Daddies, which focuses on a group of young women who have resorted to sugar dating in order to offset the exorbitant costs of college, and Bachelor Emergency, for which they’ve paired with their former Laguna Beach and The Hills star Kristin Cavallari. The latter is a comedy format, which will center on a collection of female experts who overhaul a hopeless man-child from head to toe, including their home and cyber presence. Cavalari will produce, but has no plans to appear on air.
Additionally, the duo has been at work on Keepers of the School and Uncle Majic. The former has them pairing with Phineas and Ferb creator Swampy Marsh to adapt the young adult book series of the same name, while the latter is a family reality comedy that centers around a hip hop magician, along with his kids and his ex girlfriend. DiGa has teamed with Sean Hayes, too, to create a Shark Tank meets Survivor format called Living The Dream. They say they intend to find people from all walks of life who dream about leaving their life behind and restart as a successful entrepreneur in an exotic location. The show will give them both the guidance and the tools to see if they have what it takes.
Though DiSanto and Gateley’s focus at this week’s D.C. confab will be on their unscripted brand, DiGa has been looking to build out both its scripted and books business as well. They’re producers on MTV’s Teen Wolf and upcoming Scream, and their telepic adaptation of Brian Stelter’s morning show tome, Top of the Morning, is still in development at Lifetime. Early last year, the pair also inked a three-book deal with Macmillan Children’s Feiwel and Friends imprint for a High School Horror Story collection written by veteran YA author Chandler Baker. Going forward, both execs say they’re eager to explore iTV’s vast library of potential source material, too.
Upon acquiring a 51 percent stake in DiGa in February 2014, ITV Studios U.S. Group’s then-CEO Paul Buccieri said of the partners: “They have developed a brilliant understanding of pop culture and really know what appeals to the key teenage and young adult demographic, which is reflected in their online, mobile and social media strategy together with a successful brand extension and merchandising arm.”
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