LOS ANGELES The success of the HBO series Big Love, which takes viewers inside the lives of a polygamous Mormon family, has spawned a furious cavalcade of pitch meetings all across Southern California as Producers attempt to cash in on the show's successful formula.
"Last year, I was pitching every variation on the Robinson Crusoe story I could because Lost was red hot," said Larry Goldstein, a Producer at Juice Entertainment. "Marooned, the story of a malfunctioning cruise ship, Deflated, about a punctured hot air balloon, and Rerouted, concerning a truck that gets diverted because of construction on I -95. But this year, religious fundamentalism is all the rage."
Goldstein refused to go on record with details from his recent pitch meetings at Viacom and TNT, but did allude to the religious faith he thought had the most potential for a series. "Wicca is the fastest growing religion in the country right now," he said. "Plus, the chicks are hot and into lesbianism."
While Juice Entertainment has not yet sold any pitches, Rita Rodsner of HRK Studios in Glendale recently sold an idea for a show about a family of Jews for Jesus to Showtime and is currently developing the concept.
"The family owns and runs a kosher delicatessen in Scarsdale," Rodsner said. "It's a real fish out of water, yet fish still in water kind of story. Bill Pullman is already attached as the father and we want someone like Ashley Oslen for the rebellious older daughter."
According to Reggie Tongue, an agent at William Morris, the nature of the television business is such that if a new show generates favorable buzz and gets ratings, it will be copied and repackaged by as many different producers to as many different networks as possible.
"That's how creativity works. First, Coke came out with Diet Coke. Then Pepsi came out with Diet Pepsi. Then Pepsi invented Pepsi with Lemon and Coke followed suit. All art is derivative," Tongue said.
However, not all denominations are eager for the exposure that comes from a television show. Jan Jaffner, an executive producer at Cumstock Features, was developing a series for CBS based on the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, when the show was abruptly canceled.
"They told me it was because test audiences weren't responsive," Jaffner said. "But, honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if (noted Scientologist Tom) Cruise had it torpedoed just like he did to that episode of South Park about Scientology. But its alright, I just switched out Hubbard with Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and resold it to ABC."
But for those religions not well known in mainstream America, a potential TV show is considered a huge boon to the faith. At least one organization, The World Church of the Creator (WTOTC), has hired several veteran television writers to create a show in which the WTOTC figures prominently. So far, the writers Stan Jenkins and Lindsay Fish, have met with network executives at Bravo, TNN and VH1.
"The folks at VH1 loved the idea," Fish said. "But they were concerned that the church's core message of advancing of the white race wouldn't play well with the 35% of the VH1 audience classified by the church as "mud people.' So now, we're considering producing the whole series ourselves, and then selling DVD's and single episodes on iTunes."
However, Fish did not rule out running the series on TV in the future, especially if the other content delivery channels generated significant revenue.
"There's only one church in Hollywood, and everyone belongs to it. It's the church of AC Neilson. The church of ratings," Fish said. "That and Temple Sharey Tifelo on Wilshire Boulevard."