America's Next Producer
Get ready for a small-screen smackdown. The 10 contestants on TV Guide Network's new reality series, America's Next Producer (premiering tonight at 8 pm/ET), display attitudes ranging from boastful to breathless. But they all want to get ahead in Hollywood, and they're not afraid to mix it up.

The 10-episode series — the net's biggest original production yet — will search for the next Jerry Bruckheimer or Dick Wolf. But viewers who think a producer is the fat cat behind a desk writing checks will learn that that image is far from reality. "In the past, producers delegated a lot," says Last Call host Carson Daly, who delivers the first challenge. "But the superproducers of the future are going to wear a lot of hats. We are finding a new idea of a producer — they have to be multiskilled: part producer, part editor." Smiling, he adds, "We call them predators."

The show's "predators" are ready to do what it takes to impress the judges and win the $100,000 prize and a first-look deal with the TV Guide Network. Those who don't make it will be sent home after being told, "It's a wrap!"

Produced by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, the creative team behind Project Runway and Top Chef, the show follows the tried-and-true formula of putting the hopefuls through "ball-busting challenges," says host (and ex-MTV VJ) Ananda Lewis. Each week, one person is voted off by the judges: TV Guide senior critic Matt Roush, Fox Sports chairman and CEO David Hill, and a revolving lineup of guest judges.

"We're pulling back the curtain on how TV gets made," Cutforth says. "We know from our own experience of trying to get someone to buy our ideas that it's really difficult." Still, the five men and five women have arrived in Hollywood primed to go. "Some of them have experience and some of them don't," Lewis says. "But they all think they're badass."

The first challenge is to go out on the street and create a comedy piece for Last Call. When the contestants — divided into teams of two — are dropped off on Hollywood Boulevard with only three hours to shoot, the drama begins. Sharon Nash, an experienced producer (for SOAPnet's Soap Talk), finds the devil is in the details: She doesn't know how to work her camera. "If I have an editor and a [camera operator], then nobody can beat me," she says. "But with these kindergarten tools, I don't know."

It wouldn't be a reality show without the emotions running high — and they do, as the increasingly stressed-out contestants face other challenges, including developing and producing other types of shows. Look for Alphonzo "Zo" Wesson to stir up resentment and Evie Shapiro to have a teary breakdown. In the first episode, one contestant tells another to "shut the f--- up!" Ah, the creative process.

And what will it take to win? Roush says he's "looking to see if the contestants hold up under pressure and if they're confident in their own vision. We want someone who can bring something new to TV." Don't we all!

So what is a producer? We asked a few to "explain" themselves.

Mark Burnett, executive producer of Survivor, Pirate Master: "The producer has to come up with the idea, sell the idea to someone who's going to pay for it and then find talent to be in it — and equally important, the writers, the camera people, the directors, and lighting and set design. Once you've bought the idea, once you've sold it and you've sold the team, then you're a manager."

Hart Hanson, executive producer of Bones: "[A television producer is] 12 parts storyteller, eight parts therapist, 15 parts cheerleader, one part sociopath, 22 parts typist, three parts keeper of the enemies list, and one part contortionist, which makes it the most schizophrenic job in the world."

Tim Kring, executive producer of Heroes: "[The hard part is] figuring out how to squeeze a square peg of making a show in eight to 10 days into this round hole of a giant ambitious production. When they say that something can't be done, in terms of size and scale and scope, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat if you really think about it."

Anthony E. Zuiker, executive producer of the CSI franchise: "My first TV script was CSI and prior to that I had no true producing experience. When CSI launched, I found myself in these production meetings with 60 people talking about cars and wardrobe and hairstyles and steady cams and cranes, and I was completely lost. Luckily I had my copilots Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue, who were the other executive producers at that point; they were able to assist me. I had no idea how much goes into it... that you were writing something 400 people were going to be working on in unison and if you wrote 'The Titanic sinks,' they're going to start building a boat."

For much more on TV Guide Network's America's Next Producer — including video clips and a profile of each contestant — visit the show's website at tvguide.com/anp.

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