Live PD producer Big Fish Entertainment is preparing to do battle in the competition arena with a number of projects including a sports combat series with Sylvester Stallone. This comes ahead of the launch of A&E series America’s Top Dog and as the “controlled chaos” of its biggest franchise Live PD returns for a fourth season.
Big Fish founder and president Dan Cesareo outlined the company’s plans in an interview with Deadline and discussed its ongoing strategy for the smash hit A&E police format, new CMT series Sweet Jesus and its long-running Black Ink Crew franchise.
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Cesareo recently brought a project to market featuring Rambo star Stallone, who also previously fronted Netflix’s first major move into the non-scripted genre with Ultimate Beastmaster. We’re working with Sylvester Stallone and we’re shopping that [project] right now. It is in the sports combat space and it’s getting a response from buyers. There’s a tremendous added value [to having Stallone involved], he immediately sparked to it and we’re off to the races. I’m always on the lookout for those synergies and opportunities where people are passionate,” he told Deadline.
Big Fish, which was acquired by MGM last year, is also working with MGM Worldwide Television Chairman Mark Burnett on a number of other projects in the competition space. It comes after scoring Sweet Jesus, a baking competition set in the South, for CMT and ahead of the winter launch of America’s Top Dog, a Live PD spin-off that sees four police K9 teams compete against one civilian team in each episode for the title of Top Dog.
“Every time a dog showed up on Live PD, the Nielsen meters and social meters spiked. It was how to create a show that borrows from the Live PD DNA but is far more family friendly and general audience. We wanted to create something that leans into these little fury superheroes,” he said. “We’re developing more in the live space, that’s what broadcasters and networks are looking for, but we’re also very focused on how we take the same approach to live to other genres. We had never produced a competition format before America’s Top Dog and now we have a baking show with a twist.”
Live PD, which is hosted by Dan Abrams, returns to A&E this evening, Friday September 20 for its fourth season. Cesareo said that the show originated after he and his team came across police departments that were live tweeting patrols. “Live PD is one of most enjoyable shows to produce because it’s such a challenge. We do a lot of prep work in terms of the field, but really what happens is that you show up on a Friday night and settle into the control room and all of the camera feeds come up and the show starts and we don’t have a run down and have three hours of TV to create. The easiest way to describe it is like having eight live breaking stories at the exact same time, but you don’t know all of the details. There’s an energy and controlled chaos that works,” he added.
The format has spawned a number of spin-offs including Live Rescue, which follows fire departments and rescue squads. It returns for a second season on A&E on Monday, September 23. He said that it will include new cities and “elevated” features. “When you have something that works on the level of Live PD, you’re always trying to ideate and figure out how to use it as a jumping off point to launch other shows. We had a good first season on Live Rescue and excited about the launch of season two,” he said.
Live PD has also been remade in Europe with local versions in Austria and Germany. A British version was touted with The Jump producer Twofour attempting to score access for a version, but it hasn’t made it yet. “Live PD has unique challenges that not every format faces; the law is very different as you move country to country. There are some international broadcasters that are working on Live PD formats and we’re involved on a consultancy basis. We’ll be more heavily involved when they launch. It’d be great if you could Undercover Boss it and set it up all over the world but the things that make it special are the same challenges that we faced when we set it up,” he added.
Big Fish also produces three iterations of tattoo format Black Ink Crew, which launched its latest version in Compton in August. Cesareo said that it is always looking for more franchises.
Last summer was a pivotal moment for the company when MGM acquired Big Fish in a multi-million-dollar deal. Cesareo said that working with Burnett, “the godfather of unscripted” was a particular boon. “The MGM partnership has been amazing and it’s the perfect fit for us. It’s an iconic studio with incredible history. The great thing about MGM is that they bought into the Big Fish culture and wanting us to maintain that and continue to grow, we run independently and lean back into them with bigger strategic projects. We have a couple of big ideas that we’re about to bring to market with Mark. We probably could have brought to market in the competition space but there’s a lot of insight and secret sauce that they’re able to tap into,” he said.
In addition to developing projects with NBA star Chris Paul, next up for Big Fish is breaking through with the streaming services. “We have some stuff in development with the streamers, we have a project with Snap and when you look across the spectrum, there’s a lot to be excited about with HBO Max and Disney+ and Netflix, Amazon and Quibi. It’s a fun time to be a program creator,” he added.