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Fox execs admit ‘Utopia’ is really risky reality TV, ready to take the gamble

CENTURY CITY, CA - AUGUST 06: Simon Andreae, EVP Alternative Programming, Fox Broadcasting speaks onstage at the 'TV's Reality Rainmakers' panel during Tune In! Variety's TV Summit at Intercontinental Century City on August 6, 2014 in Century City, Califo
CENTURY CITY, CA - AUGUST 06: Simon Andreae, EVP Alternative Programming, Fox Broadcasting speaks onstage at the 'TV's Reality Rainmakers' panel during Tune In! Variety's TV Summit at Intercontinental Century City on August 6, 2014 in Century City, Califo
Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen

Welcome to their world. Sunday night’s premiere of the reality show “Utopia” already has Fox execs talking about the huge risk they are taking with the buzzy 365 day, 24/7 social experiment. But on Thursday, Simon Andreae, the new head of alternative entertainment at the network, told Fox Business the network isn’t afraid to roll the dice.

"I think we live in a go-big-or-go-home world now, where if you don't take risks, if you go for safe shows, you don't get many big wins, as we've seen in the last year or so of unscripted TV,” Andreae explained. “That said, I don't think it's just any old big risk. It's a measured risk."

The reality series, which features 15 strangers in a bare-bones campground who have one year to build a society from the ground up, is being compared to “Survivor and “Big Brother,” but the risks are much more magnified. Filming never stops. There’s no Diary Room. There aren’t even humans operating the 130 cameras that surround the compound. And editing isn’t really on the table. Anything can and will happen, as the show will be live streamed 24/7. One of the cast members is even pregnant and due in December.

On the financial end, the network reportedly spent $50 million to construct the "Utopia" site, which also includes a small man-made lake stocked with 400 fish, a small stable with a chicken coop and two cows, and a large open-air barn. But Andreae pointed out the expenses will be on the front end: "It’s the reverse of most shows," he said. "Usually, shows become more expensive the more episodes and seasons are produced. This show was expensive to build out in the first place, but the longer it goes on, the less expensive it becomes."

But with no prizes at the end of this journey, what’s the draw for viewers? Andreae has already compared his reality show to a serialized primetime drama or soap opera, touting “a major undercurrent of physical and sexual and romantic attraction” as people try to pick their mates in Utopia. “More than one is bisexual or poly-sexual, so it’s not an easy environment to navigate,” he added, according to Deadline.

There’s already been plenty of drama since filming started last week. Contestant Andrea Cox was booted from the show for smuggling in a cell phone to Google her colleagues, while castmate Hex Vanisles had to temporarily leave the compound to be treated at a hospital for dehydration. There have also been clashes over food, alcohol and religion, with a cast that includes a polyamory advocate, a "naked yoga enthusiast," a raw vegan chef, a homeless former drug dealer, and a pastor who plans to build a church on the compound

While Utopians will get a few perks that “Survivor” alums don’t – they’ll have access to food and water, a phone and $5,000 in credit they can use to buy supplies – there’s no leaving the compound unless there's an emergency or they want off the show. And unlike “Survivor’s” 39 days or “Big Brother’s” three months, this show must go on. For 365 days.

“Utopia” premieres on Sunday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.