SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — In Utopia, almost anything might be possible.
The masterminds behind Fox’s new unscripted society-building series have seemingly prepared for every possible situation at the rural compound where they’re filming the show.
The exception: What if nobody watches?
Such a scenario is one that the creators of the human ant farm don’t want to consider.
“Realistically, I don’t know,” conceded executive producer Conrad Green in his trailer office across from the Utopia set a few days before the participants — or “pioneers,” as they’re called — moved onto a Santa Clarita ranch that has often been used as a location for films and TV shows.
“The hope, of course, is that it will be a huge success and go on for much more than a year.”
Based on a Dutch format, the U.S. version of Utopia is billed as a 365-day social experiment in which 15 folks have been picked to live and work together on a bare-bones plot of land while being filmed by 130 cameras.
Unlike similar reality-TV trials such as Survivor and Big Brother, there is no host, competition or prize. There aren’t even humans carrying around cameras.
The action is captured entirely by remote-controlled gizmos positioned in trees, on rocks and throughout the only pair of buildings on the Utopia site: a small stable stocked with a chicken coop and two dairy cows, and a large open-air barn where the cast can find shade and sleep. The footage will be overseen, edited and streamed from a complex of trailers steps away from the set.
Green said the producers cast Utopians with contrasting personalities in hopes that the ambitious show wouldn’t simply result in a televised “hippie commune.” The pioneers include a belly dancer, a Southern pastor and a pregnant woman due in December. The series will feature a monthly elimination that will keep the cast changing throughout the life of Utopia.
“My biggest fear is that it’s boring,” Green said. “The reason unscripted shows are heavily formatted is because that provides reliable, relentless moments of drama. We have to use the intimacy and purity of the observation we’ve established to make it interesting in and of itself.”
Utopia marks an audacious gambit for Fox. The network has seen ratings for aging talent contests such as American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance slide in recent years. Simon Andreae, the new head of alternative entertainment at the network, isn’t afraid of taking a chance on the Truman Show-like series.
“I think we live in a go-big-or-go-home world now, where if you don’t take risks, if you go for safe shows, you don’t get many big wins, as we’ve seen in the last year or so of unscripted TV,” Andreae said. “That said, I don’t think it’s just any old big risk. It’s a measured risk.”
Source: Associated Press