Fox Gets 'Naked'

In their mission to create interesting content for television, the executives at Fox Broadcasting Company are taking a page from an old Hollywood playbook: They're going to the theatre. Back in the golden days of Hollywood, studio executives would often scour the theatres of New York and Chicago, searching relentlessly for talented new playwrights to bring out West to join their studio's creative staff of writers. In that spirit Fox has teamed up with New York's Naked Angels Theatre Company to produce Naked TV, an innovative project that mirrors those historic days in its attempts to discover and develop new writers for television.

The program, now in its second year, is the brainchild of Stefani Relles, a former member of Naked Angels. In her present role as the head of Creative Writer Development, Relles is a member of Fox's "Rock Squad," a term given to her department for its willingness to "look under rocks" to find undiscovered writers. A former English and creative writing teacher with the Malibu Unified School District, Relles understands the paradoxes inherent in being an undiscovered writer in Hollywood. "A playwright's ability to pitch an idea to a bunch of executives has no correlation to their ability to write a show," she said. "Naked TV gives them the opportunity to use great actors, great directors, and great production values to communicate their idea. And it's more fun."

Naked TV is a lengthy endeavor that begins with the selection 80 writers, handpicked by Relles and her development team. Each writer is asked to submit prospective television show concepts. The concepts are then sifted and discussed until they are eventually whittled down to the six ideas thought to have the best chance of becoming a Fox television show. The final six writers, whose work will eventually comprise the content of Naked TV, are then asked to draft their ideas into 10-page scripts that will offer television executives sneak peeks into the worlds of the show.

At this point Naked Angels steps in and, along with Relles, works closely with the writers to develop each script into a fully produced one-act play. The theatre company—a community of actors, writers, directors, designers, and producers—has long been recognized for its dedication to creating original works for the stage. According to executive producer and Naked Angels company member Paul Eckstein, the group has always been passionate about recognizing a writer's vision through its initial inception to final production. "[Our] method of creating theatre is based on collaboration," said Eckstein. "And Naked TV is an extension of that method."

Each of the newly written scripts is assigned its own director and cast. Through the rehearsal process, the scripts continue to be refined as the writers watch rehearsals and make various rewrites. The final goal of the project is to either impress executives from Fox Television into ordering the idea for development or to at least recognize the talent behind it. The general public also gets the opportunity to see the finished works, as Naked TV will open to the public beginning April 9 at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica.

A normal pitch process has a success rate of one out of 10 pitches going into development. With three of the seven pitches from last year having been ordered for development, it appears Relles has created a project that could continue to grow as a viable method by which Fox can discover new talent. "The intent is to show off the writer's voice, through developing a good idea that is compatible with that voice," she said.

One such voice lives within the mind of writer Matt Boren, whose show Dirtbags follows a group of friends who are seven years out of high school and still living in the suburbs of Boston. Originally conceived through last year's project, Dirtbags is now a pilot for Fox, starring Melissa Joan Hart. Boren, who got involved after his play Camel Lot caught the eye of a Fox development executive, credits the Naked TV process with teaching him the finer points of writing a sitcom. "It was like cramming four years of college into one year," said Boren, a graduate of New York University. "I learned the structure of sitcoms and got better at writing a television joke. It's been incredible."

But not all the writers involved in the project are playwrights. The inclusion of Tony Horkins, one of the six featured writers in this year's production, is a credit to Relles' creative efforts to turn over every stone in her search for new talent. A journalist and advice columnist, Horkins met Relles after a friend brought him to Naked TV. Initially scoffing at the suggestion that he consider submitting a concept for the project, Horkins was eventually persuaded by Relles' persistent and positive encouragement. The result is Horkin's show Ask Andy, about an advice columnist who doesn't take his own advice.

The other pieces included in this year's show are Marilyn, by playwright Patricia Cotter; Ministry Loves Company, by novelist Veronica Chambers; Debs, by playwright Evan Smith; The Geek Gatsby, by director and producer Douglas Segal; and Marked, by playwright Aida Croal.

Naked TV runs April 9-24 at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. $15.20. (310) 392-7327.