By Michael E. Ross Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 10/24/2003 4:43:34 AM ET 2003-10-24T08:43:34

No more calls, they have a winner and it’s a fish story, sort of: After a national tour in which avid television viewers pitched their ideas for a new hit TV show, the Pilot Project competition has selected a show concept by Tom Sackville-West, a Seattle fish salesman, who won out over thousands of entrants with his idea, a classic example of art imitating life.

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“Seattle City Fish” — the title may be changed — is a one-hour weekly drama that explores the life of a young would-be musician working at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, while he works to break into the music industry.

Sackville-West, all of 20 years old, said he moved two years ago from Spokane, Wash, “where I was born and raised” to Seattle. “I got a job working at Pike Place Market, at City Fish Co.,” he said. “I’ve been working there for two years. I always had an idea that it would be a wonderful place to base a show — there’s so much ambience and character. It’s an amazing place.”

“It’s been a dream of mine to be a musician,” he said. “This is based around my life — a musician struggling in Seattle. In the meantime he’s working at City Fish selling seafood for a living, picking through ice and dead fish working 55 hours a week. It’s about the struggle to realize your dreams.”

Sackville-West, audibly excited in a telephone interview Monday, is clearly realizing a dream of his own. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” he said. “I was beside myself when they told me.”

The Pilot Project competition was the brainchild of Ruben Navarrete and his company, Effects Productions, a Boise, Idaho-based production outfit.

Sackville-West’s chosen city will be one of the stars of the show. “Seattle has such a great, trend-setting music scene, with many influential people coming out of it. They’ve made an impact.”

Also-ran finishes first
Sackville-West’s triumph is that much sweeter because it was so unexpected. Pilot Project judges — hailing from different top entertainment outlets — winnowed almost 1,000 pitch entries down to 150; the final process of elimination — from 150 down to the top five — was done by registered viewers of the Pilot Project Web site. Those five entrants were flown to Los Angeles to make their last pitches before the judges.

Sackville-West’s concept originally came in at No. 6. But then fate stepped in. The No. 5 entrant withdrew from the competition, due to conflicting commitments, Navarrete said.

“I’m coming in as the underdog, but it seems to be working to my advantage,” Sackville-West said.

At the final pitch meeting in L.A., Navarrete liked what he saw in the young Sackville-West. “He was really polished, he did his homework,” he said. “The show’s marketable, he’s marketable ... It just worked out really well.”

The next phase of the process begins Oct. 15, when contestants audition for a role in the performance or production of Sackville-West’s show-to-be — as actors, writers or production designers.

A show about the show
Navarrete and company are developing “Pilot Project — the Television Series,” a 12-episode, documentary-style series chronicling the contest experience from the selection of the finalists through the production process and screening of the pilot show.

Navarrete is in talks with Reality Central and the Bravo cable network about possible development of the series. (Bravo was acquired last year by NBC; MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

And Sackville-West is weighing his options as well. They might even include putting music on a backburner for awhile — or at least a sideways burner.

“It’s a definite option,” he said. “I’m really into entertainment at every aspect. I’ll always pursue music, but entertainment will open a lot of doors through the people I’ll meet and the connections I’ll make.”

And in the interest of doing something right by doing it yourself, Sackville-West plans to put his own hat in the ring: “I’m going to audition for the lead role.”

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