NBC Knows What It Wants: A Reality Show About 'Grease'

Connie Fisher, center, got her London
Connie Fisher, center, got her London "Sound of Music" gig through reality TV. Will the formula work here? (By Sang Tan -- Associated Press)
By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, November 30, 2006

In January, NBC will replace football on Sundays with a reality series in which viewers pick the two leads for a Broadway revival of the musical "Grease," hosted by President Bush's cousin.

And if that's not a "Saturday Night Live" skit, I don't know what is.

"Grease: You're the One That I Want," debuting on Jan. 7, hails from BBC Worldwide Productions. The restaging of "Grease" is set to open on Broadway in June.

And, before you start rolling your eyes or curling your upper lip, know that the concept went over big in the U.K., where BBC and Andrew Lloyd Webber found a wannabe to play Maria for a restaging of "Sound of Music" through the very same reality TV elimination process in a series called "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?"

The series was a hit -- clocking an average of 6 million viewers, which is a big number there -- and the Maria picked by viewers via telephone voting, Connie Fisher, made her debut in London's West End this fall to great reviews from critics and a standing ovation from ticket holders, though some theater-industry thumb-suckers continued to denounce the concept of prime-time TV as casting office.

Webber, who was a judge on the U.K. reality series, is not involved in the NBC project as of press time, though an NBC rep told The TV Column the network is in talks with him.

"We would love Andrew to be on the show; nothing has been determined yet as far as his involvement with the show," she said.

According to one press report, Webber, who created the BBC show, had filed legal action against his "HDYSAPLM?" partner, David Ian, for taking the reality series concept to the United States without him. Ian, who shepherded the '93 London revival of "Grease," by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, is producing the new "Grease" on Broadway and will be one of the judges on the NBC series. He was also a judge on the British series.

Now, about President Bush's cousin. In the U.K., "HDYSAPLM?" was hosted by the brilliant Graham Norton; in the United States, "G:YTOTIW" will be hosted by Billy Bush, gak.

Not coincidentally, Bush is host of syndicated celebrity suck-up series "Access Hollywood," which is distributed by NBC Universal 2.0.

Vertical integration: Sometimes it stinks.

On a brighter note, his co-host for the "Grease" talent search series will be British actress/bad girl Denise Van Outen. There are lots of Web sites for Van Outen you can't enter unless you swear you're 18. NBC prefers to direct your attention to the fact she was in the Broadway revival of "Chicago."

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