Steven Spielberg is taking the plunge into reality television with a show that promises to do for film-making talent what Pop Idol, and its wildly successful US counterpart, American Idol, have done for aspiring singers.
The show, to be called On The Lot, will be modelled on its predecessor - involving a nationwide talent search, a series of elimination rounds in which contestants will be challenged to make a short film and the home audience will be invited to render its verdict on the outcome and, finally, a meeting between the winner and Spielberg himself at the offices of his DreamWorks production company.
The interest for Spielberg - still an iconic figure in Hollywood 30 years after his first blockbuster hit, Jaws - is to help nurture new film-making talent. The interest for Rupert Murdoch's Fox network, where the show will be produced and aired, is to replicate the success of American Idol, currently the most popular show on US television, in a new arena.
"All through my career I've done what I can to discover new talent and give them a start," Spielberg said in a statement. "This opportunity ... allows all of us to reach out directly to open a much wider door." Spielberg will co-produce the show with Mark Burnett, a Fox executive previously responsible for the US version of Survivor andThe Apprentice, the corporate ladder-climbing show led in the United States by Donald Trump, the property magnate, rather than Sir Alan Sugar, who hosts the British version.
The extent of Spielberg's role in On The Lot has yet to be determined. It's tempting to think of him as a cross between the barking chief executive of The Apprentice and the no-nonsense, acerbic critic personified by Simon Cowell on the Idol shows.
Mr Spielberg is generally acknowledged, however, to have a rather more gentle personality, which may make for less compelling television. He is also colossally busy with his day job - running DreamWorks, which recently lost its status as a separate studio and is now part of the Paramount empire, and directing one or two films a year. In 2005, he came out with War of the Worlds and Munich; now he is in pre-production on a new Indiana Jones adventure and an untitled Abraham Lincoln project.
On The Lot will not be the first movie talent reality show to hit US television screens. Five years ago, the then young guns Matt Damon and Ben Affleck initiated a cable show called Project Greenlight, in which they first selected a project written and directed by a film-industry novice and then oversaw its production. The outcome was an incoherent mess of a movie, which made for intermittently entertaining train wreck-style television viewing.
Fox is planning to start airing On The Lot in mid-2007, at about the time that theAmerican Idol season is winding down. The new show won't get bogged down in a single production because its format will be very different from Project Greenlight.
After the nationwide talent search, 16 teams of finalists will be invited to make short films for each week's show, each one representing a different genre - romance, horror, suspense and so on. The producing-directing teams will have access to professional actors and screenwriters and might, if they are resourceful, be able to land a bona fide Hollywood celebrity to star in their movies.
The audience will then vote to eliminate one team each week, until a single winning team is left at the end. They will then be given a contract by DreamWorks, and office space to work out of.
"There are so many amateur and budding film-makers who really don't have the opportunity to show their stuff," Fox's head of reality programming, Mike Darnell, told Reuters. "We want to bring them to Hollywood ... and have America help us find the next great film-maker."
Hollywood and the small screen
* MATT DAMON and BEN AFFLECK The pair teamed up with American Pie producer Chris Moore and Wes Craven to create a contest for aspiring screenwriters and directors. In Project Greenlight, hopefuls submit screenplays online and entries are whittled down, until a winner is found and their script goes into production. Two films have been made so far. Poor ratings mean a fourth season is in doubt.
* JAMES CARVILLE and MARY MATALIN
K-Street, produced by George Clooney and directed by Steven Soderbergh,is set around a make-believe lobbying firm on K Street, Washington, the avenue famed as the home of lobbyists.Though the show is fictitious, its protagonists are real-life political lobbyists James Carville and Mary Matalin. Carville gained fame guiding Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992, while Matalin was a top aide to President George Bush. * MARK WAHLBERG
Entourage, produced by Mark Wahlberg, is about the excesses of a Hollywood actor and his team of staff and hangers-on. Wahlberg says that the episodes come from his own dramas during his early days in Hollywood.
* JIM CARREY
The classic 1998 movie The Truman Show
starred Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, an insurance salesman who discovers that the small town he lives is in fact a gigantic studio, his friends and family are actors, and his life has been the focus of a reality TV show. Winner of three Golden Globes.
* MY LITTLE EYE
A 2002 horror flick about five young people who apply to live in a creepy house for six months on a reality show, to win $1m. There is one snag: if one leaves, everyone loses, and lots happens to make leaving attractive. Described as Big Brother meets The Blair Witch Project.