Unscripted Lifer Seeks 'Million-Second' Hit

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Some people believe the unscripted space suffers from “nothing new under the sun syndrome.” Just don’t count All3Media America president Eli Holzman among them. To prove that, next month, Holzman and company hope to reinvent the space with the premiere of NBC’s The Million-Second Quiz, a two-week-long game show hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

While NBC won’t be all Quiz all the time, the net will devote one hour of primetime to the show Monday through Saturday the first week and Monday-Wednesdau the following week, before a two-hour broadcast that Thursday, for a total of 11 hours. Episodes will also air on NBCUniversal’s digital platforms; the show will see contestants battle not only with each other but also with viewers who can play along at home.

Holzman sees unscripted as a genre that is constantly expanding; even with new shows seemingly popping every week, he believes there is still more room for evolution. “I think there is, [but] the low-hanging fruit is all gone,” he says.

But it’s not nearly as easy to mine new ideas as it was when the unscripted boom first hit about a decade ago, and all you needed was a slew of cameras and an island. “It’s tougher than ever,” Holzman says.

The Right Job

Holzman’s start came nearly two decades ago with an internship at Miramax in the winter of 1995, where his enthusiasm was a surprise even to him. “I never was like this when I worked any other job,” he admits.

In time, Holzman landed the prize position of being an assistant for Miramax head Harvey Weinstein. While he can look back on his time with Weinstein fondly, he is quick to point out that many of his old boss’ former assistants can’t say the same. “People got chewed up and spit out on that desk,” he says.

Holzman was promoted to junior executive, working for top exec Meryl Poster. He remembers Poster asking him to “make a position for myself,” and Holzman seeing television as an untapped marketplace for the studio. “Nobody had done anything else in television,” he says of Miramax at the time.

In 1998, Holzman was sent out to Los Angles to help Billy Campbell build Miramax’s TV division. It was there that Holzman would experience his first taste of unscripted success with Project Greenlight, which he explains came about over a conversation at a dinner party with a disgruntled filmmaker. The success of Greenlight played a large role in Holzman eventually being named head of Miramax Television in 2002.

After another success in Project Runway, Holzman left Miramax in 2005 and became president of Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst Films. He soon found out creating reality shows and getting them greenlit was much tougher at an independent. “I was getting good deals at Miramax,” he says. “I thought I would get those same deals as an individual producer, but that wasn’t the case.”

Stephen Lambert, who had established himself with much success at selling reality series in the U.K., wanted to build up his Studio Lambert business in the U.S. The two shared the same agent, and Holzman was eventually hired to run Studio Lambert’s American operations. “I was looking for somebody who mixed great entrepreneurial instincts with great creative ability,” says Lambert, who was looking ideally for someone willing to take on the challenge of helming a small start-up. “Eli was able to do all of that.”

Their first collaboration: the gamechanging Undercover Boss, which debuted to 38 million viewers following Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010.

Holzman and Lambert’s partnership was strengthened late last year when All3Media, which backed Studio Lambert, decided to open up its own U.S.-based production company, which Holzman now runs.

“We have a pretty unique vision for this company,” says Holzman, who will wait to see how far Million-Second Quiz pushes the envelope. “So far, it seems to be working.”