NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Does America want to see people being fired by their own colleagues? News Corp.'s Fox is trying to raise eyebrows again with a potential reality show that takes on exactly this subject. While media buyers say not everyone may embrace the concept, the show should get enough support to make at least an initial appearance on air.
Fox, which has a track record of launching outrageous reality concepts including "When Animals Attack" and "Temptation Island," has ordered a program tentatively titled "Someone's Gotta Go," in which employees will have lay off one or more of their own.
"A lot of the appeal of reality shows is voyeurism and relatability -- 'That could be me,'" said Tim Brooks, a TV historian and co-author of "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV." Fox should show some care with a workplace-based reality program in the current economy, he said. "Maybe we don't really want to gawk, because we're afraid that could be us, too."
It's a valid point given that just last month, employers cut 663,000 more jobs, and unemployment had hit a high of 8.5%.
Under the aegis of Mike Darnell, president of alternative entertainment, Fox has developed a reputation for controversial reality fare. "Temptation Island" put forth the notion that people in committed relationships might cheat on one another. More recently, "Moment of Truth" asked contestants to reveal whether they had cheated on their spouses or squandered a child's college funds.
Already, Fox is preparing a July berth for "More to Love." The reality show will follow a "husky hunk" as he looks for love among a group of "plus-size women." The weight-loss concept has worked for NBC's "Biggest Loser" franchise and VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club."
A way to stand out
Now, Fox may have more impetus for launching these programs than just trying to stir the pot, said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at independent Horizon Media. The reality field "has become so saturated," he said. "One way to help them stand out in a cluttered genre is to put on something that's a little more risque."
Some buyers and network executives said Fox's reality fare is sometimes difficult to sell, particularly to marketers of consumer package goods and other conservative types. A Fox spokeswoman said the network declined to comment on whether the programs are harder to sell to advertisers.
While this kind of stuff isn't for everyone, media buyers said it could still draw support. "Someone's Gotta Go" could draw the interest of career-services companies such as Monster or TheLadders.com "and makers of antidepressants," said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat. Weight-loss advertisers including Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and NutriSystem could be interested in "More to Love," she said.
Until she sees an actual episode of "Someone's Gotta Go," Ms. Brill remains a little cautious, however. "For advertisers who are skittish, and especially ones who have undergone their own layoffs, I think it might be somewhat of a tough show to associate with," she said. If the show had an aspirational element -- co-workers working together to avoid layoffs by sharing pay cuts or furloughs -- it could fare better, she added. "Just on the surface, [the topic] seems very sensitive."