UPN loves its Chains

UPN may have the last laugh on reality project Chains of Love. The "social experiment," also known as the controversial reality project that NBC backed out of, is ready to go at the weblet.

The series from the producers of Big Brother
and Blind Date, which literally chains five people together for up to four days, debuts on Tuesday, April 17, on UPN. Network programmers have scheduled the series to air six consecutive Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT and say it could be back as a regular staple in the fall if all goes well.

The early buzz from critics and Hollywood insiders who have seen initial episodes of Chains of Love has the series on the water-cooler level of its predecessors Survivor and Temptation Island prior to their debuts. "UPN has a lock on what could be the most bizarre and captivating reality series in TV history," Entertainment Weekly wrote last month.

And if Chains of Love does become the next break-out reality hit, UPN will have NBC to thank.

"I think there will be a lot of lively conversations at NBC after this show airs," says UPN President and CEO Dean Valentine.

Last October, NBC executives got cold feet and opted to pass on the series. Reeling from not having a Survivor or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? on their schedule, NBC programmers went full speed ahead into reality development last fall and landed Chains. UPN had initially tried for the series, but Endemol Entertainment, producer of CBS' summer reality project Big Brother, went with NBC, hoping for more exposure. NBC began developing the project, but executives at the network soon said they and Endemol didn't share the same vision on Chains. Insiders say NBC executives grew wary of the show's potential sexual content. NBC executives had no comment.

Enter UPN.

"We were originally interested in the show, and it wound up at NBC," says Valentine. "I guess NBC was sort of confused about how to make the right kind of show, and we were sort of fortunate to have it come back on the market."

Says Endemol Entertainment USA's David Goldberg, "I can't really speak to why NBC bowed out. But I can say we were thrilled by the fact that UPN had always wanted this show, and we were thrilled that UPN still wanted it after all of that."

Once UPN got its hands on the series late last year, programmers went looking for someone with a relationship-show background. They quickly found David Garfinkle and Jay Renfroe, partners in Renegade 83 Entertainment, producer of syndicated series Blind Date.

"I had heard so much about it. It was on 60 Minutes II and in every magazine. I was a little wary at first," says Garfinkle, now an executive producer on Chains of Love. "But when I saw the tape, I was actually fascinated by it. I think this show is going to surprise people."

Chains is based on an Endemol format launched in Holland, with subsequent versions in Germany and Great Britain. Each of UPN's six episodes will feature one man or woman as the Picker. The Picker is connected to four people of the opposite sex by 6 feet of chain, with alternating wrist and ankle cuffs allowing less than 24 inches between them. The five people sleep together, eat together and walk together at all times. On each episode, Chains will feature a different four-day period, during which the Picker eliminates one of the four mates every 24 hours. In the end, one couple remains, and the chains are unlocked. The Picker then reveals whether there is a love connection or not.

"We set the Picker up with people they say they would really like to be with and people they've said they don't want to be with," says Garfinkle. "So if a Picker says she is tired of dating bad boys and wants someone more stable, we put both types on the chain. You quickly get to see what makes these people tick."

The Picker is given $10,000 and sole discretion on sharing it with the other contestants throughout the show.