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April 15, 2009

Octomom reality show reports premature; most networks cringe at prospect

OctomomSeveral outlets are reporting that Nadya "Octomom" Suleman has finally landed a reality TV show deal ... in the UK.

That's like the face-saving teenage brag about having a girlfriend in Canada.

And it's not even true (at least, not yet).

The reports started from Suleman telling Life & Style that she had signed a deal with UK production house Eyeworks and that her show will air in Britain. The story is getting considerable pickup from other outlets all over the Web.

"Yes, it is official," Suleman was quoted. "I'm going to be doing a show, but it's not a reality show. What I'm doing with this TV show is basically creating documentaries about the lives of my children. It's going to be an ongoing thing, and it will follow them from now until they are 18. It's being done by Eyeworks; they're in the UK. It will air in the UK and then we'll see if the US is interested."

Except it's not official. No UK network has signed on to carry her show.

And according to production house Eyeworks, even they don't have a deal with her yet, though the parties are in talks.

"At this time we are in active negotiations with Nadya and her attorney for an unscripted format following the life of Nadya and her children," said Eyeworks CEO Reinout Oerlemans in a statement. "Nadya's story is a very unique and exciting one that needs to be told in the right manner ... We are confident that we are the right party to tell their story around the world."

Suleman garnered worldwide attention in January by having the second full set of octuplets to be born alive in the United States. Public reaction turned negative when it was revealed she already had six children, was living on public assistance and had asked her doctor to implant six embryos in her uterus (two split). Her interviews on Dateline and Dr. Phil drew big ratings. 

So a reality show would seem to be a given. But for all the gossip publications claiming the Octomom was coming soon to a network near you, she's had trouble finding a U.S. network to fund her series. Most channels feel icky about inviting Suleman into their programming family even though channels such as TLC, E!, A&E, Oxygen, Bravo, VH1, Lifetime and several others would seem to be obvious destinations for pitching the show.

Reports in February that TLC was on the verge of signing her were fairly accurate. The network has cornered the oversized-family reality series market with its popular docusoaps Jon & Kate and 18 and Counting and seemed like an obvious match. At the height of the Octomom hype, the network met with Suleman. But sources said TLC found her “much crazier than they expected” and backed out.

And that’s TLC, mind you -- a network that last weekend aired The Woman with Giant Legs, Autistic Twin Savants, Girl Who Never Grew and, everybody's favorite, Paralyzed and Pregnant.

Other networks that have aired tawdry reality fare in the past act downright offended at the prospect of an Octomom show: we're not that kind of trashy. She has been called the only major reproductive news scandal both liberals and conservatives can agree on.

Though the mainstream press often assumes the reality industry is an immoral free for all, that any scandalized person can get their own show, the actual business doesn't operate like that. Or, at least, not as much as you'd think. The Octomom is lousy for branding and would be tough to sell to advertisers.

“Please say, ‘a Bravo spokesperson said we are not interested in this,’ ” said a Bravo spokesperson.

This isn't to say that no U.S. network will sign Suleman. She could still get stateside play somewhere, somehow. It's always a mistake to overestimate the height of the bar when it comes to reality television. But for the past several weeks the refrain has been "it's not us, it's not us."

And that goes double for network publicists, who would be charged with having to put a happy face on such a project.

“It’s not us,” a cable network spokesperson said. “At least, I really hope it’s not.”


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