Can 'Georgetown' bring a bit of the 'O.C.' to D.C.?

By Lisa De Moraes
Thursday, February 3, 2011; C06

Add "The O.C." creator Josh Schwartz to the list of Hollywood producers looking for a way to do a scripted drama that taps into the Washington political scene.

ABC has ordered from Schwartz a pilot episode, to be made for a possible TV series for next season, called "Georgetown."

You know what would be a fresh take? A drama series about young people who come to Washington and discover it's everything they thought it would be because they've actually studied Washington before deciding to move here and break into the political scene - or at least have watched a couple of episodes of some Sunday Beltway shows and know how the town rolls.

This is not that show.

This one is another in the litany of sexy soaps that have been developed over the years about idealistic 20-something aspiring politicos who come to Washington to juggle their personal and professional lives, and discover along the way that the ideals that brought them to our nation's capital don't always match Washington reality.

Yes, Wednesday's news moved this project ahead incrementally from the reports last August that ABC had given Schwartz and producing partner Stephanie Savage a "put pilot order" on this hot-young-naive-Washington-politicos project.

A "put pilot order" means the network has to pay a certain penalty if it does not order a script to pilot. And a pilot order is, well, a pilot order.

Oh, and the name has changed. The pilot was going to be called "The Inner Circle," but that had too many syllables.

The pilot episode is being written by the same guy who wrote last year's glutinous date flick "Remember Me" - remember it? It's the flick that instructed us to "live in the moments" (gack) and that starred That Guy From "Twilight," a.k.a. Robert Pattinson, and "Lost's" Emilie de Ravin as, respectively, a guy whose brother committed suicide and a chick who lives each day to the fullest after witnessing her mom's murder.

Broadcast TV has been trying for years - since "The West Wing," really - to get political D.C. right on TV, with usually disastrous results. The country's most popular TV series, CBS's "NCIS" (which, by the way, hit a record 23 million viewers this week) is set in Washington, as is Fox's "Lie to Me" and Fox's "Bones," etc. But they're not really about politics.

Most recently, NBC's Jimmy Smits-as-renegade-ex-Supreme-Court-justice drama "Outlaw" was put out of its misery quickly. A while ago, Dick Wolf took a stab at a WB series called "D.C.," which was also short-lived. We could go on and on.

Meanwhile, "The West Wing" alum Rob Lowe - who's now playing an unbalanced government auditor on NBC's low-rated "Parks and Recreation" - is executive-producing a new E! reality series called "Potomac Fever" about - you'll never guess - young wannabe politicos who "live and love at the center of world power," as Lowe put it a while back. Because, as the show's producer said in an interview, Washington is "ripe" for this reality show.

Recent history would seem to disagree with Mr. Lowe. So far: Bravo's Washington edition of "Top Chef" opened with the smallest crowd since the first season in March 2006; MTV's long-running "Real World" franchise limped out of Washington with the lowest-rated season in the show's history; TLC's "D.C. Cupcakes" was no ratings barn-burner; and though Bravo noted that "Real Housewives of D.C." enjoyed the biggest audience for a "Real Housewives" first season, it's far from a slam-dunk for renewal.

"Georgetown" is one of at least two Washington-based scripted dramas in various stages of development for next season at ABC alone. "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes has a pilot order for a series about a professional "fixer" in Washington, to be loosely based on former White House press aide and NBC corporate PR suit Judy Smith, who is also known for her crisis management work shepherding the likes of Monica Lewinsky and Michael Vick through their particularly interesting times.

No 'Shore' thing

Reality TV is becoming increasingly competitive, so if you're lucky enough to cast Snooki on one of your shows, you need to be prepared to cough up some serious change to get her locked in for additional seasons, former MTV programming president Tony DiSanto acknowledged during a reality-TV conference in Washington, while Hollywood talent agents in the room licked their lips.

"Casting" is the new "format," according to DiSanto and the other panelists on the "Let's Make a Talent Deal" panel, who were all in agreement regarding how crucial "multidimensional" cast members have become to the success of the docu-soap genre that's super-hot these days.

"Casting in reality shows is akin to screenwriting in films," DiSanto said during the panel at the RealScreen Summit. "There are kids living on the Jersey Shore and in Laguna Beach, but it's almost meaningless if the cast isn't multidimensional."

Speaking of MTV's once-popular reality series "Laguna Beach," which tracked the daily love triangles and drama of wealthy high-schoolers in Southern California, DiSanto acknowledged that the franchise went toes up in its fourth season. That's because the original stars graduated from high school and headed for their own spinoffs, such as "The Hills," so MTV set up an entirely new cast.

The result? Ratings death.

"They were a great group, but for various reasons, just didn't work as reality TV stars," said DiSanto, adding that the "execution [of a show] can be awesome, but if the cast is not stellar, it's not going to work out."

MTV did not repeat the mistake when the "Jersey Shore" cast came looking for a salary bump after the show became a hit. They're now each making a reported $30,000 per episode.

MTV suits have worked, as DiSanto said, "really hard" not to recast "Jersey Shore." It's had only minor casting bumps: Angelina left in the middle of Season 1, came back for Season 2, and then left again, replaced by Snooki's far more entertaining friend Deena in Season 3.

Also weighing in on the panel was Kelly Cutrone, a familiar face for fans of "The Hills" and MTV's "The City." She's the no-nonsense, expletive-dropping boss of a fashion PR firm who refuses to care about the daily drama of her interns/employees/cast members.

Cutrone loves, loves, loves MTV because, she explained, early on she had to trust network suits not to make her next week's story-line roadkill - or, as she put it, "Is the Wizard going to kill you on the Yellow Brick Road tomorrow?"

Instead, she said, they treated her like a long-term franchise they could grow and nurture, like a hothouse flower. Now, Cutrone says, she's also blossomed into a correspondent on Dr. Phil's show and has a syndicated talk show in the works. But back in the day when she was a budding reality-TV star, "Every day I felt really safe. . . . I have a multimillion-dollar business on the line."

Cutrone, the sage of the panel, talked about having a conversation with MTV suits when "Jersey Shore" broke out and the press got all knicker-knotted about them using words like "Guido."

"There was a lot of uproar. . . . You really went to bat for that show when the media was all, 'This is not okay,' " she reminded DiSanto.

"That is another really good example of how executives and talent work together," she explained to attendees.

Cutrone thinks the whole docu-soap fame-domo thing is getting out of hand.

"I'm not going to . . . punch someone in the face," she said (you know, like "Jersey Shore" cast member Sammi did to castmate Ronnie on last week's episode). "They're controlling everyone on the Internet, everyone else is being called into action through other people's anonymity."

Cutrone summed it up: "It's a very fine line between entertainment and debauchery."

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