Silverman's Electus Preps Shows for More Than Just Web

In Q&A, Former NBC Entertainment Co-Chair Discusses Global Content and What He Learned From 'Twilight'

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- For all the talk of what Ben Silverman's new production company would roll out for the web, Electus' first slate of series includes work for TV and a unique effort to court Hispanic teens on both platforms.

Ben Silverman
Ben Silverman Credit: AP
One of Electus' first TV projects will be a bilingual MTV series called "Pedro & Maria," billed as the first interactive telenovela, co-produced and sponsored by Procter & Gamble Productions. The series will reunite Mr. Silverman with America Ferrera, star of "Ugly Betty," which he brought to the U.S. courtesy of Telefutura and on behalf of Reveille, his former production company. Viewers will be able to interact with the "Pedro & Maria" storyline and characters via social media, text messaging and other digital formats. Conceived as a modern-day "Romeo & Juliet" for the Hispanic teen set, Mr. Silverman said the series is targeting a first-quarter 2011 premiere.

Mr. Silverman, the former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, started Electus with Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp after leaving the network in 2009. The founder of production company Reveille, he had a knack for finding foreign TV formats and successfully bringing them to the U.S. His other skill as a content developer was in cutting deals with brands to appear in his shows. So his latest ventures are, as might be expected, carrying marketers in tow.

Electus is taking its first international slate of reality programming to market this week at MIPTV in Cannes under the label Electus Distribution, an international arm established in partnership with Shine International, the owners of Reveille.

Projects include "Big Time Spender," a partnership with Mark Burnett Productions; "Munch Madness: The National Food Tournament," a production with Sharp Entertainment, creators of Travel Channel's "Man V. Food"; "Hiccups," an international airing of the Canadian TV series from Thunderbird Films and executive producer/star Brent Butt; "Ready, Set, Dance," a dance competition created with IAC's Notional built for the web and TV; a partnership with Israel-based Abbot Reif Hameiri Production Company that includes "Cuckoo's Nest" and "TLV"; and "Stylized With Patricia Field," a web series that pairs Mr. Silverman with two more "Ugly Betty" vets, Vanessa Williams and costume designer Patricia Field, for a web makeover series from the "Sex & the City" stylist.

As if that wasn't enough, Electus also just announced a new development deal with pay-cable channel Starz for two new scripted series, "William the Conqueror," from "Taken" director Pierre Morel; and "Peacekeeper," a United Natons-set action thriller co-created by Mr. Silverman and Fisher Stevens, Academy Award-winning producer of "The Cove." A full scripted slate will be announced in the coming weeks.

Madison & Vine caught up with Mr. Silverman from France, where he shared the origins of "Pedro & Maria," praised the appeal of international distribution and intellectual property in today's TV marketplace and provided an update on Electus' deal with Dum Dum Productions.

M&V: Where did the idea for "Pedro & Maria" come from, and how will it be interactive?

Mr. Silverman: This show really proves the business model we set out to establish when we started this company last year.

The audience will be able to weigh in and engage deeper with the content by actually choosing elements of the scenario involving Pedro or Maria. It's like a modern-day "Romeo and Juliet." I was watching "Twilight" and thought, "If they can do it with wolves and vampires, we can always go back to another arena." Everything form "West Side Story" to "Twilight" has worked for a different generation. This is a different element for the demographic to determine if Pedro and Maria stay together.

M&V: Why was the Hispanic market important for you to be reaching with this demo, particularly on a mass network like MTV?

Mr. Silverman: As we see and anticipate what the Census is going to show with emerging demographic trends, there's an obvious need for marketers and networks and media platforms alike to reach and communicate with this demographic -- which is one that I care about deeply, having championed "Ugly Betty" years ago. Subsequently, I've seen how the demos play across Spanish-language TV, inside music and across the culture in general. I'd been wanting to do something that was general market but in tune with this market as well.

M&V: You're also debuting Electus' first international slate this week, which will include another "Ugly Betty" reunion with Vanessa Williams and Patricia Field for a new web series. Can we expect that to be included as part of your new relationship with Yahoo?

Mr. Silverman: We're really excited about that series, obviously by having the designer of the look of "Sex & the City" and "The Devil Wears Prada," but also Vanessa, who brought us the concept, and is such an icon herself. We just shot a presentation pilot and are taking it here [in Cannes] and launching that digitally. We're taking that to the advertising marketplace right now. We'll obviously be announcing it soon, but clearly we have a great relationship with Yahoo, so it wouldn't be shocking if it was there.

M&V: What else can we expect from your new international reality slate?

Mr. Silverman: We're also bringing a new partnership with Mark Burnett to the advertising market, "Big Time Spender," which speaks to how our strategy of pairing A-list storytellers with awesome media platforms, linked in with Fortune 100 brands, is a killer combination and exactly where Electus wants to live. What we're looking to do is create ideas and formats that can live around the world. The plan is to launch them concurrently, with time to meet the brands' interests. The world is becoming a day-and-date place, and as it gets more and more global, it's also more and more local. We're coming up with ideas that can be branded globally but launched locally.

Each project will either directly connect into international markets, or [be] remade into the international market. Just as "Ugly Betty" was remade in multiple markets, the finished versions of the American series were also sold internationally. What we're doing here is creating [intellectual property] that can be sold -- but formats that can be sold as well.

M&V: You've been a big champion of re-creating the network distribution model online with your relationships with MSN and Yahoo. But what has the syndication of web video taught you about getting content in front of the right viewers in today's fragmented media landscape?

Mr. Silverman: We're hearing from young consumers that they want content on their mobile phones and want content that connects them with their network of friends. We need to find and create those ideas that are relevant for that consumer in addition to making big-budget dramas that play around the world, without being locked into one genre.

M&V: On the comedy front, you announced at CES this year a new development with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett to create web content for their Dum Dum Productions company. What can we expect that to start bearing fruit?

Mr. Silverman: We're having great success with Jason and Will, so stay tuned, Dum Dum is coming. I've been having the most fun coming into the Dum Dum writers room, and having Jason and Will and the team they've assembled and the ideas they've come up with. Who said advertising wasn't fun? They're loving it, which is great because all their peers are excited about it too.

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