GOING FOR THE GAME-SHOW GLITZ
Anatomy of a game show.
This is glamour. This is glitter. This is gloss. This is TV biz at its bizziest. This is headquarters for Fiedler Berlin Productions.
Above a liquor store.
You drive into the small parking lot at the rear of the small building in Sherman Oaks. You climb the steep flight of outside stairs. You open the door at the head of the stairs and enter the suite of office.
There, in their realm, are Rob Fiedler, 38, and Peter Berlin, 33, producers of “Chance for Romance.” Would a network put on a game show created by two unknowns above a liquor store? Fat chance, you say. Well, stay tuned.
Berlin and Fiedler joined, uh, forces three years ago after working together on a syndicated talk show, Berlin as a writer and Fiedler as a field producer and director. Most of their production experience has been in cable, where they collaborated on more than 300 shows together.
But they succumbed to the call of the game show.
It’s full-time work. “Do you know that 16 baby possums can fit in a teaspoon?” Berlin asked. He paused. “Or is it a tablespoon?” He paused again. “Naw, it’s a teaspoon.”
Why game shows?
“I’ve heard that a company could make $40,000 a week if a show is in syndication,” said Fiedler, a free-lance director. “I’ve heard that it’s more, from $5 million to $20 million a year in profit,” Berlin said. The payoff is smaller for a network game show, but still substantial.
“You have an idea,” said Berlin. “You go to the network. You give a verbal presentation. If they like the idea, they will make a deal to develop it. They give you X amount of dollars (usually $10,000 to $20,000) to develop the show. You use that money to do a run-through.” A boffo run-through can lead to a pilot, which can lead to a spot on the schedule.
“There might be a dozen or two dozen packagers who do this,” Berlin said, “but only a few who the networks buy from.” So far Fiedler-Berlin is not one of them. So far. . . .
The story of “Chance for Romance” begins with “Top to Bottom,” Fiedler-Berlin’s first attempt to break into game show production. “I’m sitting in my family room one morning,” said Berlin. “My wife runs in and tells me she just had a dream about a game show. She described the game. It wasn’t half bad.”
Berlin and Fiedler made refinements and adjustments, and voila : “From top to bottom, who is tallest, Sylvester Stallone, Lynn Redgrave or Paul Newman?”
To give Berlin and Fiedler more credibility at NBC, their agent had them make a deal to produce the show in association with Jay Redack, who had produced “Hollywood Squares.” Then came the pitch to NBC, which immediately gave them a development deal.
Fiedler-Berlin mounted a run-through in a hotel. Real contestants. Real questions. Real audience. NBC liked it, made suggestions and gave them money for another run-through. They incorporated the suggestions, held another run-through for NBC--and NBC passed.
“But we gained credibility,” Berlin said. The game was only beginning. Berlin and Fiedler heard in early February that NBC was interested in “some kind of dating show.” Shades of Chuck Barris? No. Shades of Fiedler-Berlin. Maybe. They hoped.
“Peter and I have always played this game, wondering about people and what they are like,” Fiedler said. So “Chance for Romance” was born.
First round: Two males or females are given some basic information about three subjects of the opposite sex, and then are asked questions about each of the three based on their first impressions.
Second round: Each of the two contestants is asked a true or false question about each of the three subjects. The contestant with the most points gets to select one of the three subjects for a date on a swanky trip whose value is determined by a third line of questioning.
Berlin and Fiedler polished their game. Should they have three contestants and three subjects, with everyone getting a date? Wasn’t that the American way?
“If we did that, one contestant would get the person nobody else wanted,” Berlin said. “Look, Zelda, you get Murray.”
Feb. 20: “Chance for Romance” is pitched to NBC. “They liked it and said they’d think about it,” Berlin said. “We were confident because they were making development deals right and left--24 or 25 run-throughs--for the chance to make four or five pilots.”
March 4: NBC requests copies of the questions that would be used on the show.
March 20: NBC approves a development deal.
March 24. Fiedler and Berlin move in above the liquor store.
March 25: They advertise and call singles groups for contestants. NBC wanted a show that “skewed young.” “So we were looking for people between 23 and 35 with great personalities,” Berlin said.
May 2: They hold a run-through for NBC in a theater, with Berlin as host. “If you bring in a host at that point, he might be selling himself instead of the show,” Fiedler said. “I was scared to death that I would blow it,” said Berlin.
May 10: NBC orders a pilot. “I screamed,” said Berlin.
The “Chance for Romance” pilot cost NBC $300,000 to produce and competed with four other pilots for a 9 a.m. opening on the NBC schedule.
After many interviews and auditions, Berlin and Fiedler hired humorist/entertainer Jim Stafford as host.
July 8-9: They make three shows in front of an audience at NBC (“Who will that lucky lady choose for her date?”) and deliver the best of the three to the network.
NBC tested the pilot in New York and Ohio and decided that “Chance for Romance” needed more “interaction” among contestants. Fiedler-Berlin produced more run-throughs incorporating the changes NBC wanted. The run-throughs were held above the liquor store and attended by NBC executives.
One drove up in a Rolls-Royce and parked in the lot outside the building, the kind of place where you could emerge to find your car stripped and on sitting blocks. Fiedler-Berlin fretted and sweated. “If he lost his hubcaps,” said Berlin, “we’d lose the show.”
He kept his hubcaps, and they still lost the show. At least for the time being. “NBC passed on it for September,” Berlin said. “But I think we have a good chance for next March. They said they really liked the show but the timing wasn’t right. At first I was devastated,” said Berlin. “You wonder if this is the last good idea you’ll ever have,” said Fiedler. “But you go on,” said Berlin.
Meanwhile, Fiedler-Berlin has another game show in development at NBC, and Berlin has enough money to pay his house mortgage next month. The little company above the liquor store isn’t generating income, but like so many in the same business, it’s still generating dreams.
FOR THE RECORD: Bill Moyers’ “Whose America Is It?” report will air Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS, not 9 p.m. as stated in Friday’s column.