Welcome to Utopia, coming to a screen near you

Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:35pm EST
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By Thomas Escritt

LAREN, The Netherlands (Reuters) - In a windswept enclosure southeast of Amsterdam, shivering volunteers are building a home for themselves from scratch, under the constant gaze of television cameras relaying their struggles to the outside world.

They are contestants in "Utopia", the latest reality show from John De Mol, the man behind "Big Brother" and many other shows that have made the Netherlands synonymous with reality television.

And if "Big Brother", launched some 15 years ago, presaged a later world of social media, with its proposition that private lives are better widely shared, De Mol thinks "Utopia" reflects the concerns of today's audiences.

"Our trendspotters came back with one consistent message," he said.

"People are worried about their finances, about their jobs, about their futures, about governments interfering in their lives. So we said: 'Why don't we let them build the world they've always wanted, a Utopia for themselves'?"

Perhaps the original brainwave behind reality television came more easily in a country where people rarely close their curtains on long winter evenings, giving passers-by on the chilly streets of Amsterdam's 17th-century canal district a view into peoples' living rooms.

The trend set by De Mol with "Big Brother" became a huge financial success too, earning millions for Dutch investors and drawing the attention of media giants to the Netherlands.

Just last week, Warner Bros said it would buy Dutch production company Eyeworks for a reported 200 million euros ($274.05 million). Eyeworks has produced a slew of reality shows, including "Obese," "My Kid is Too Fat," and "Slumdog Holiday" which aired in 150 countries.   Continued...