What does it take to make a perfect world?
Fifteen people from across America, along with viewers, are about to find out. The so-called "pioneers" get to build their own civilization -- literally -- over one year in "Utopia," an unscripted FOX series debuting Sunday (Sept. 7), with additional airings the following Tuesday and Friday.
Originally created for Dutch television by reality-show mogul John de Mol ("Big Brother," "The Voice"), "Utopia" clearly intrigued many people well before the U.S. debut. "Nearly 5,000 applicants" vied for a spot, per FOX alternative-programming chief Simon Andreae; some may still get their shot, since members of the initial group could be replaced by newcomers.
"The whole point of this is, it's not a game show," fellow executive producer (and "Dancing With the Stars" alum) Conrad Green told reporters at the recent Television Critics Association summer press tour. "It's not a competition. There's not a prize. It's not motivated like a lot of these types of shows.
"What we're hoping to see is something unique play out ... which is people from very different backgrounds across America coming together, working out their differences, working out new ways of structuring a society."
Indeed, Andreae adds, "This is really as close as I think anybody will have got for a very long time to starting a culture from scratch, and to having people with different points of view address the absolutely fundamental tenets of any culture, in as close to a virgin state as possible."
The initial citizens of "Utopia" are diverse, as those of virtually any society would be. They range from an ex-Army officer and a model to an expectant mother-to-be and a homeless ex-convict.
Even before the premiere, though, the situation has proven less than utopian: One of the "pioneers" was taken to a hospital to be treated for dehydration (but then returned), and an intended cast member didn't even make it onto the set, having been let go for reportedly violating "production policies" by researching the others ahead of meeting them.
Still, the notion of a utopia couldn't be better-timed, in Green's view.
"This is a country that's got very fractured in terms of political beliefs, in terms of social beliefs," he says. "It's a country where a lot of people sit in their own bubble, shouting at each other and saying, 'I can make an ideal world.' In some ways, what we are putting into these guys, we are putting that chance into them individually."
Ex-con Dave had me for 2 minutes and then he went cray