Pegged as something between a soap opera and a reality series, Twentieth Television's new syndicated strip Classmates debuts June 30 on selected Fox owned-and-operated stations in major markets, such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Like recent launches Texas Justice, Ex-treme Dating and Good Day Live, Classmates
will have a slow rollout, giving Twentieth a chance to "test it, tweak it and get audience feedback," says Robb Dalton, president of programming, production and development.
The show is the first project from Twentieth's new program-development unit Foxlab to make it on-air.
The idea for Classmates
came about when Foxlab realized that, with 35 million subscribers, Classmates.com is a bottomless pit of stories. Dalton initially balked at a show based on a Web site, but, when he realized all the opportunities for storytelling that the reunions presented, he got enthusiastic. "At its core, this show is a real-life soap opera," he says.
The show also plans to follow up on people it reunites and air those stories, Dalton says. In one of the first segments, two high school sweethearts who hadn't seen each other since he left for the military 10 years ago are reunited. Both have been married and divorced in the intervening years, and she has a son she named after him.
"I believe they're going to get married. If they do, we'll do it on the show," Dalton says.
The show's production team just started working two weeks ago but has already determined that it takes about 40 leads, gathered from Classmates.com, to put together a match with a story to film. Twentieth had 3,500 leads to start with and has been gathering about 300 to 500 leads a week.
Twentieth funds its slow rollouts, so the shows cost stations nothing before they go national, if they do. If the test run goes well, Classmates will launch nationally in January, June or September 2004.
Executive producer David Armour runs the show and with executive producers Matt Papish and Glen Freyer. Classmates is produced by Classmates Online, Pipeline Entertainment and Small Cages Productions in association with Foxlab and Twentieth Television.
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