Celebrity's Best Friends

9/19/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Start-up Ish Entertainment already has unveiled a sizable slate of reality shows in development or about to premiere, kicking off with Paris Hilton's My New BFF on MTV Sept. 30.

Ish's founders, VH1 veterans Michael Hirschorn and Stella Stolper, have a history of hits at that network, with shows such as Flavor of Love. Now out on their own, they view their forte as their ability to carefully match talent — ranging from celebrity heiress Hilton to the actor Antonio Sabato Jr. to the rappers 50 Cent and T.I. — to show format.

“We really sit down with the talent and get a feel for what they want to do, what they're excited about, and really build the show and the concept around them, rather than playing a game of darts and hoping we hit the bull's-eye,” said Hirschorn, VH1's former executive vice president of original programming and production.

His partner Stolper is VH1's former senior vice president of celebrity talent development, and she has the contacts that have helped Ish get off to a strong start, according to Hirschorn and Tony DiSanto, MTV's executive vice president of programming and series development.

“Stella has unbelievable connections to the talent world, and pop culture, and honestly, she's got the MTV-viewer sensibility inside of her,” DiSanto said. “She's always able to predict what's going to hit next, what talent's going to hit next, what kids are going to be into.”

In addition to the new Hilton show, Ish has another reality-competition program with 50 Cent, The Money and the Power, slated to debut this fall on MTV. In it, the rapper takes a role similar to that of Donald Trump in The Apprentice, as host and mentor to contestants competing for a cash prize.

Also for MTV, Ish is also doing a reality show with T.I., who will start serving a jail sentence next year for illegal-gun charges. That series will premiere early in 2009.

And earlier this month, VH1 said it had picked up an Ish show where Sabato will try find the woman of his dreams. “He called and said, 'I'm finally ready to find love, and this time I really want to do it,' ” Stolper said. “And he said, 'You're the only guys I want to produce it for me.' It was very flattering.”

Hirschorn and Stolper formally announced their plans to launch Ish in January, with a first-look deal with MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo. The Hilton show was the first project green-lit out of that pact.

But Hirschorn said Ish really didn't get rolling until April 1. Later that month, the company formed a joint venture with the film studio Lionsgate, which is giving it financial, production and distribution support.

DiSanto said it was a no-brainer to do a first-look production deal, with a commitment for three shows, with Ish. At VH1, Hirschorn and Stolper created “true genre-busting stuff that has really broken through in pop culture in a big way,” DiSanto said.

In the 10-episode Paris Hilton's My New BFF, contestants live in a house in Los Angeles and compete in tests to be Hilton's new best friend. Hirschorn, a veteran journalist before moving into TV programming, believes the program depicts a sweeter Hilton. She may surprise people, for example, by forging a special connection with an evangelical Christian from Texas on My New BFF.

“It's really, really fun and funny, and then it takes a turn and becomes quite heart-felt,” Hirschorn said. “It's not the Paris Hilton you expect to see. It's definitely a new, more mature Paris, and it's a far cry from The Simple Life.”

Ish and Lionsgate have already sold a U.K. version of the show to ITV2, which will begin shooting Hilton searching for a new best friend in England Oct. 7.

According to DiSanto, “His [Hirschorn's] programming instinct is incredible. He knows what viewers want to see, and he knows what's going to grab eyeballs in this age when there's so much choice.”

In addition to its MTV shows, Ish has a one-hour special, Larry the Cable Guy's Star Studded Christmas Extravaganza, that will air around Thanksgiving in November on CMT. Ish is also working on eight pilots and has two scripted projects in the works.

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