Fremantle Looks To Import 'Industrial' Serials

Fresh off the success of Fox's summer cynosure American Idol, executives with FremantleMedia are looking to fortify the producer's position on U.S. soil.

Long an overseas force with such shows as Pop Idol
American Idol's progenitor in the U.K. — and the long-running Prisoner: Cell Block H
and Neighbours
in Australia, the company has established a solid stateside beachhead, distributing Oliver's Twist
for Food Network, and producing Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck
for Game Show Network. It also co-produced the now-cancelled dramas 100 Centre St.
and Nero Wolfe
for A&E Network.

Now the company is courting even more action in cable's arena, possibly with Americanized versions of the company's successful "industrial" dramatic serials that can be produced at half the cost of traditional episodic television.

"Cost-cutting is one of the secrets of our company — how we script, write and make a show," said Fremantle CEO Tony Cohen at a recent press gathering in Beverly Hills, Calif. "That's why we don't get explicit."

But technology and ensemble casts are obviously part of the formula. On the former topic, Fremantle president of U.S. entertainment David Lyle said shows are shot in a high-definition format that gives the program the appearance of having been shot on film, but at a lower cost.

Also, Fremantle's successful European dramas revolve around large casts of previously unknown actors.

"Our experience elsewhere shows the show creates the stars," said Lyle. "It helps to have an ensemble cast, because if the [contract] negotiations prove difficult, accidents do happen."

Fremantle has appointed Jason Daniel, who helped create some of the titles the company could adapt for the U.S. — such as Between Friends, the four-year-old show that's No. 1 in Hungary, or Secret Lives ,
the top program on MTV3 in Finland — to head U.S. drama development.

The company is currently in development with Titanic
producer Gale Anne Hurd's company for a prison drama, Women Behind Bars .
The show is an adaption of the successful drama that has been on the air for five years in Germany, as well as Prisoner: Cell Block H, previously syndicated in the U.S. two decades ago.

Though it's a prison story, executives stressed that it won't be a female version of Home Box Office's gritty Oz.
"You don't have to shower soon after watching it," Lyle said, adding that although it's set in jail, it will be "uplifting and fun."

Elsewhere, Fremantle is pitching several series projects to various cable networks. In HBO's hopper is Ally Gee, a British import in which an "idiot savant" does irreverent interviews with common people.

Up for consideration by MTV: Music Television is Real Life Adventures, a weekly reality program featuring people hurdled into a week of surprise adventure and romance, tracked with hidden cameras. Popular BBC2 housemaker show Life Laundry, a development project announced last spring, is still on Discovery Channel's burner.

Lyle also disclosed that To Tell The Truth
— an update of the Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions classic, starring John O'Hurley, which left syndication earlier this winter — will return via cable, sans O'Hurley, in a "provocative" late-night format. Premiere date and channel will be named soon, he said.