Spielberg hunts for filmmakers
Andrew Gumbel

Spielberg will co-produce the nationwide talent search
Spielberg will co-produce the nationwide talent search

Steven Spielberg is taking the plunge into reality television with a show that promises to do for film-making talent what Pop Idol, and its wildly The show, to be called On The Lot, will be modelled on its predecessor — involving a nationwide talent search, a series of elimination rounds in which contestants will be challenged to make a short film and the home audience invited to render its verdict on the outcome and, finally, a meeting between the winner and Spielberg himself at the offices of his DreamWorks production company.

The interest for Spielberg — still an iconic figure in Hollywood 30 years after his first blockbuster hit, Jaws — is to help nurture new film-making talent. The interest for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network, where the show will be produced and aired, is to replicate the success of American Idol, currently the most popular show on US television, in a new arena.

"All through my career I’ve done what I can to discover new talent and give them a start," Spielberg said in a statement.

Spielberg will co-produce the show with Mark Burnett, a Fox executive previously responsible for the US version of Survivor and The Apprentice, the corporate ladder-climbing show led in the US by Donald Trump, rather than Sir Alan Sugar, who hosts the British version.

The extent of Spielberg’s role in On The Lot has yet to be determined.

It’s tempting to think of him as a cross between the barking chief executive of The Apprentice and the no-nonsense, acerbic critic personified by Simon Cowell on the Idol shows.

Spielberg is generally acknowledged, however, to have a rather more gentle personality, which may make for less compelling television. He is also colossally busy with his day job — running DreamWorks, which is now part of the Paramount empire, and directing one or two films a year.

In 2005, he came out with War of the Worlds and Munich; now he is in pre-production on a new Indiana Jones adventure and an untitled Abraham Lincoln project.

On The Lot will not be the first movie talent reality show to hit US television screens. Five years ago, the then young guns Matt Damon and Ben Affleck initiated a cable show called Project Greenlight, in which they first selected a project written and directed by a film-industry novice and then oversaw its production.

The outcome was an incoherent mess of a movie, which made for intermittently entertaining train wreck-style television viewing.

Fox is planning to start airing On The Lot in mid-2007, at about the time that the American Idol season is winding down. The new show won’t get bogged down in a single production because its format will be very different from Project Greenlight.

After the nationwide talent search, 16 teams of finalists will be invited to make short films for each week’s show, each one representing a different genre — romance, horror, suspense and so on. The producing-directing teams will have access to professional actors and screenwriters and might, if they are resourceful, be able to land a bona fide Hollywood celebrity to star in their movies.

The audience will then vote to eliminate one team each week, until a single winning team is left at the end. They will then be given a contract by DreamWorks, and office space to work out of.

— By arrangement with The Independent