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Reality show chief Mike Darnell signs contract to remain at Fox

August 07, 2007|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

Mike Darnell, the man behind a string of sometimes provocative and sometimes trashy reality TV shows such as "When Animals Attack," "Joe Millionaire," "The Simple Life" and "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire," said Monday that he was staying put at Fox Broadcasting Co.

For the last two months, Darnell has been courted by more than half a dozen companies, including Fox rival NBC Universal.

"It was an emotional nightmare for me and my wife," Darnell said in an interview. "It's very hard for me to make decisions, and I had never been in this situation before in my entire career. I had usually renegotiated my contract a year before it was up. But this time, I had one offer after another. In the end, I had seven offers."

Darnell would not provide details of his new contract with Fox, except to hint that his soul-searching ended with a substantial raise, more autonomy and a new title: president of alternative entertainment.

"Ultimately, Fox stepped up in a very big way," Darnell said.

As part of the deal, neither Darnell nor the network would divulge who his boss is -- which is unusual even in Hollywood.

The pursuit of Darnell illustrates just how important reality shows have become for broadcast networks. When these shows work, they score big ratings and draw in elusive younger audiences. Not only that but the shows are also relatively cheap compared to scripted dramas, which can cost as much as $7 million for a pilot episode.

In addition, Darnell's timing to renegotiate his contract was ideal. TV executives have been ordering extra shows to prepare for a possible labor strike next year. Fox didn't want to be without Darnell, who recently contributed such popular game shows as "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" and "Don't Forget the Lyrics" to the network.

His other recent hits include "So You Think You Can Dance," and "Hell's Kitchen."

Darnell, a childhood actor who started his executive career at Fox affiliate KTTV-TV in Los Angeles, admitted that it would be difficult for him and his wife, Carolyn, to leave the company, where he has worked for 23 years.

"I think of this place as home, and that was a deciding factor for me," Darnell said. "And I love the people here and the productions. Thank God that Fox stepped up in a big way so that I could stay. Otherwise that would have made me very, very sad."

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meg.james@latimes.com

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