For a small indie to have one chance of hitting the big time in the US is impressive; to have two is out of the ball park. But Wild Rover Productions boss Phil Morrow has waited years for this moment.

The Belfast-based indie, staffed by just three - Morrow and development execs Kieran Doherty and Matthew Worthy - has two shows in production with some of the biggest names in US TV. CSI producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram van Munster, the team behind The Amazing Race, are producing six episodes of Wild Rover’s Take The Money And Run for ABC.


Meanwhile, Nigel Lythgoe has acquired the US rights to the indie’s BBC1 quiz show Secret Fortune and is exec producing a pilot for CBS with Morrow. The series has also been picked up by the Australian arm of Liz Murdoch’s Shine Group, with 12 markets now on board.


Morrow’s ambition has always been to make big shows, and Take The Money And Run is just that, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it has taken four years to come to fruition.


The BBC greenlit a pilot back in 2007 but took it no further. It was a setback that coincided with the end of the indie’s BBC1 hidden-camera show Just For Laughs after four years on air.


"It was a tough patch," acknowledges Morrow. "But we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and took it to the US. I always had huge belief in this format."


Take The Money And Run is essentially a gameshow that looks and feels more like a drama. It has been dubbed ‘24 meets CSI’, and with ABC committing more than $1m for the pilot alone, its production values are high-end, to say the least. Capturing the pace and tension of a crime blockbuster, each episode gives one daring couple $100,000 in a suitcase which they have to hide. To win, the pair must survive interrogation over 48 hours by ex-law enforcement officers intent on discovering where they’ve stashed the cash.


Morrow says this high-stakes game of cat and mouse, set to TX in August, is "a very intense experience for everyone involved because it feels so real".


Morrow founded Wild Rover in 1999 after a long and varied career that began as a runner on Return Of The Jedi. His first commission was Viz - The Documentary for Channel 4, where he also had a stint as commissioning editor for entertainment, responsible for shows such as Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out.


He’s also done his time at Thames Television, UTV and Mentorn, where his shows included Space Precinct and Today’s The Day. It’s an impressive CV, but still, how did Morrow end up partnering with two of the biggest names in US showbusiness?


The answer is through an agent and manager that Morrow met in June 2009 as part of the international programme run by Glasgow and Manchester-based The Research Centre.


The programme takes indies from the nations and regions to New York, Toronto and LA to meet other indies, broadcasters, distributors and agents and, according to Morrow, "to learn about the harsh realities of pitching in LA".


"It’s a phenomenally good course," he continues. "With a minimum of five to six meetings per day, you become very good at pitching and pick up lots of tips from others."


Going to market


It’s there that he met CAA agent Alan Braun and manager Pat Quinn. "I showed Alan a snippet and he loved it and was keen for us to let him package it and take it out to market." But Morrow was careful to ensure the list of companies that might remake Take The Money And Run also included non-CAA clients, which doesn’t always happen. "We were keen to find someone with the right strategic fit for the show."


So in November 2009, Morrow found himself pitching to more than 12 companies before signing with Bruckheimer, who brought on board his Amazing Race co-creators Van Munster and Elise Doganieri.

"It was hugely exciting for us. Not only did we have the team behind The Amazing Race - now in its 19th series - but it’s also only the second non-scripted show that Bruckheimer has attached his name to."


The deal was closed in January 2010 and the following month, the team pitched to all four networks in just one day. "With Bruckheimer having an overall deal with Warner, we were in this extraordinary position where we were going out to pitch with the president of Warner, CAA, Van Munster and the president of Bruckheimer TV. It was like being in Entourage."


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