Reality TV King Dreams Of Fiction

Bruce Nash poses July 1, 2003 on the set of "Dance Fever," an updated ABC Family version of the old talent show airing July 13, at Studio 54 in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Nash, one of the barons of reality television, is now turning his attention towards scripted comedies and dramas AP

Producer Bruce Nash, one of the barons of reality television, has three series kicking off within 24 hours of each other this month.

"Dance Fever," an updated version of the old talent show, starts July 13 on ABC Family cable channel, followed the next night on NBC by the second round of "For Love or Money" and the debut of "Who Wants to Marry My Dad?"

Quite a milestone for Nash, who helped start the reality craze in the '90s with shows including "When Good Pets Go Bad." And he's got about a half-dozen other reality shows airing or in the wings for various networks.

What's left for him to conquer? Turns out he's got his eye on the TV programming overshadowed by reality: scripted comedies and dramas. The sheer glut of reality, his shows included, is part of the reason.

"I think its popularity has peaked," he said of the genre. "I'd like to think I'll still have reality shows on, and other producers will too. But man doesn't live by reality alone. We have to continue to reinvent ourselves. This is that time again."

Although reality is especially vigorous this summer, practically hijacking network schedules, other leading producers are trying to expand their portfolios as well.

Mark Burnett of "Survivor" fame joined with top independent TV studio Carsey Werner Mandabach ("That '70s Show") on a comedy pilot for WB that didn't make the fall schedule.

Mike Fleiss, whose shows include "The Bachelor," and Warner Bros. division Telepictures Productions signed a deal with ABC that includes development of a sitcom.

Industry observers suggest it makes sense for reality producers to turn to scripted series. A moderately successful sitcom or drama, unlike even the hottest reality shows, has rerun value in syndication.

Any shift toward scripted fare should be welcome news for the writers stranded by reality's rise. But those same scribes might wonder what kind of fictional TV a reality producer might create.

Viewers certainly would welcome an infusion of new ideas, Nash said.

"They're tired of seeing the same 'Friends' clones over and over and the same type of dramas where you know the ending before it starts," he said. "The world of comedy and drama does not need Bruce Nash for that. What I'm going to propose are ideas that haven't been seen, high-concept, twists, turns — ways to do it that haven't been explored before."

He's developing a drama for NBC, a "musical superhero series" for MTV and is talking with FX about a "sort of comedy-drama."

NBC is open to exploring different concepts with a proven producer, said Jeff Gaspin, head of alternative programming for NBC.

"It's important we do take these shots because you never know where the next great idea is going to come from," Gaspin said. "To limit yourself to those who have done it before is potentially eliminating a lot of good possibilities."

A producer moving into a new arena would be paired with someone experienced in the genre, Gaspin added.

The jump from reality to fiction isn't such a big one, Nash argues, with reality show requiring similar elements of storytelling and character development.

"I've been making up characters and scenarios since I was in the third grade and I started to write. I sold a 'Perry Mason' script for a quarter to a friend of mine in fourth grade," Nash said. (That former schoolmate may want to check his closets and log on to e-Bay.)

Nash declined to provide details of the fictional shows he's working on but promised they "will be as surprising as the reality shows that I've done."

Shocking would be a better description of some of his early efforts, including "When Good Pets Go Bad" and "World's Scariest Police Shootouts." He acknowledges they don't represent his, or television's, finest hour.

But, he adds, "I'm not embarrassed by it. As I was growing in the business and building a company, that's what people wanted to buy. Would I do that now? No."

Nash, 55, is used to shifting gears. The Brooklyn native, who grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., earned a master's degree in criminology and worked as director of planning and research for North Carolina's correctional department.

As a lark, he wrote a TV trivia book — trusties made copies for him to shop around to publishers — and sold it for $200 in 1976. He eventually pumped out 80 books, 60 of them with former partner Allan Zullo. Sports titles dominated, including a "Hall of Shame" series that catalogued funny and silly moments in baseball, football and more.

But what Nash really wanted to do was make his mark in Hollywood. He still feels driven to do that, hoping to branch into films as well as fictional television.

"I'm pitching movies right now. I just don't take no for an answer," Nash said. "I've never stopped to think that these people won't listen to me because I'm a reality guy. And that's not the case. These movie people want to meet with me."

"I want to entertain people, whether it be with a comedy, a drama or a movie. An idea's an idea."
  • Lauren Johnston

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