Chris Haston  /  NBC via AP file
Bill Rancic, center, winner of "The Apprentice" walks up to shake hands with Donald Trump in the finale for the NBC show.
updated 6/17/2004 6:52:42 PM ET 2004-06-17T22:52:42

Inside the idea factory of Hollywood, two would-be producers pitch an idea that could make them rich: Star Fakers, a new reality show that would use hidden cameras to test how far people will go to accommodate the needs of celebrities. Will anyone abet Martha Stewart's jailbreak? Clean up after Paris Hilton's dog? Get into a cage with Siegfried and Roy's tiger? The punch line: Turns out the stars are played by impersonators.

It used to be that everyone in Los Angeles had a script to sell; these days it's a reality show. The reality boom has lured legions of people with little more than an idea and the gumption to try to sell it. Desperate to find the next Apprentice, Hollywood suits sit through hundreds of reality pitches. Five of the 10 top-rated shows last season were reality TV; 22 prime-time reality series will grace the broadcast networks this fall, plus a dozen or more on cable. Coming up: shows where contestants compete as boxers, lawyers and action movie stars; 2 more shows starring billionaires; and yet more shows on a single guy or gal looking for love.

The idea for Star Fakers was developed by Lisa Hagen and Tracy Scoggins as they lay on the beach near Scoggins' home in Playa Del Rey; they clinched the Web site address and set out selling. Hagen, 45, who ran the posh Hotel Bel-Air, hopes to leverage 20 years of pampering celebrity guests. Scoggins, 44, has had TV parts in Dynasty, Babylon 5 and other shows; she well knows the absurd demands that stars make and how eager everyone is to comply.

"We have the perfect way to fan the flames of this madness," she tells Robert Dalton, president of programming at News Corp.-owned Twentieth Television; then she reels off a litany of stings. "You've got a pretty sound idea, but how do you execute it?" he counters; he gets 350 reality pitches in a year. He peppers the pair with questions about costs, legal complications and, most of all, their lack of experience. Their chances are slim, but they leave undaunted.

Elsewhere, Donald Trump's The Apprentice faces two new rivals:a copycat from Virgin founder Richard Branson on Fox; and The Benefactor on ABC, in which Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will give one contestant $1 million. "Why? Because he can. How will he decide? However he wants," says Cuban's Web site.

Back among hoi polloi, Wendy Diamond, editorial director of Animal Fair magazine, has had a role in three reality shows. She was dateless in Single in the City. She stars as herself in a pilot for a reality sitcom, now being shopped by a Warner Bros. production company. And she created Mutt Makeover, a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for dogs in the pound. USA Network is set to air her two-hour special in February. "This one was a lot easier because it wasn't like they needed actors or actresses or a lot of writers," she says. She hopes to turn it into a weekly series.

It may stand as good a chance as any effort. With the reality craze still in full swing, says Fox's Dalton, "Every housewife in America has an idea for a show."

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