- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

Branson’s playtime

Stop us if you’ve heard this one.

A bazillionaire brings 16 “apprentices” together to fight for a spot on his corporate team. Some are book smart, while others earned their grit on the streets. They’ll need all their entrepreneurial savvy to make it.

Except the tests this time aren’t comprised of just selling lemonade, a la NBC’s “The Apprentice.” It’s walking a plank between two hot-air balloons hovering thousands of feet in the sky.

“The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best,” Fox’s entry into the billionaire reality genre, doesn’t stray a lick from the reality formula. But thanks to some eye-popping stunts and a genial presence in Virgin Worldwide tycoon Sir Richard Branson, it’s a rip-off of minor note.

The entrants so far aren’t the bug-eyed, attention grabbers of other reality affairs, but when they’re risking themselves high above the Earth you’re glad to have a rooting interest.

But will enough of us care to watch?

With “The Apprentice’s” flagging ratings and the flop that was ABC’s “The Benefactor,” the bubble may already have burst on the super-rich reality sub-genre.

“The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best” debuts at 8 tonight on Fox.

Really live on ‘SNL’

Who hasn’t turned on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and wished, just once, they could be the one to shout, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.”

Now, we’ll all have a chance to do just that — if we can impress the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels.

The “SNL” guru has OK’d a new reality contest where participants compete for a shot to join the Not Ready for Prime Time Players on NBC’s long-running laugh-fest, E! Online reports.

The show about the talent search, which the Hollywood Reporter says will premiere next summer, could wrap in time for the new cast member to come aboard for the show’s 30th season premiere in fall 2005.

Competition to become a part of the “SNL” scene is intense, since becoming a cast member can be a ticket to big-screen success.

From early talents Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase and ‘80s superstar Eddie Murphy, to more recent breakouts like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, former “SNL”-ers have been among Hollywood’s biggest movie comedy stars since the show’s 1975 debut.

The untitled “SNL” hunt comes on the heels of another once-successful talent search — reality-style — on NBC. Jay Mohr’s “Last Comic Standing” performed well its first two seasons before the recent all-star edition tanked.

The new “SNL” talent show is the first positive news for the series in the aftermath of Ashlee Simpson’s now infamous lip-sync meltdown on Oct. 23.

HBO goes ‘Unscripted’

The folks at HBO are hoping their second time working with director Steven Soderbergh and actor George Clooney will be the charm.

The network and the minds behind the political bust “K Street” are prepping “Unscripted,” a new drama about the world of actors, for an early 2005 launch.

Production just wrapped on the fictional half-hour series starring Frank Langella, Krista Allen, Bryan Greenberg and Jennifer Hall. The new show will depict what actors go through to make it in Hollywood, aided by appearances by real life industry elites, the network promises.

The first two episodes will debut Jan. 9 at 10 p.m.

“Unscripted” will track three people winding their way through the Hollywood maze. The show’s dialogue, like that of the HBO hit comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” was improvised.

“K Street,” one of HBO’s many original shows, debuted last year to plenty of Beltway buzz, but struggled to find an audience.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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