Half ownership of restaurant is prize of reality TV show


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Posted by Reality TV on April 21, 2009 at 10:14:02:

Half ownership of restaurant is prize of reality TV show pilot
By TOM ALESIA | WSJ


FITCHBURG — A Madison area businessman is giving half ownership of his restaurant and bar as the tantalizing top prize in a reality TV show pilot.

The show is being filmed now at Good Times in Fitchburg after drawing thousands of online applicants.

Verona resident Chris Peterson, 40, developed the popular Pancake Cafe restaurants and last fall opened Good Times. That’s at the center of the tentatively titled "American Dream," a reality TV program already deep into finding its eight finalists for a four-month taping set to start in mid-May.

"This is my idea," Peterson said. "I flew to New York and talked to producers. They said, ‘Let’s go forward with this.’ "

The production company backing "Dream" wants to remain anonymous during the show’s early stage, Peterson said, but he added, "It will get on the air."

Online applicants to the show must agree to terms that reference "MTVN." MTV Networks, which can place programs on several cable and broadcast channels, is based in New York.

Peterson is involved to such a degree that he’s offering his lavish Verona home for the finalists to live in — and be filmed in — this summer.

The "American Dream" winner will become Good Times’ co-owner, a position worth about $250,000, Peterson said, and will move to the Madison area to oversee the business. In addition, the winner receives the restaurant’s profits during this summer, which likely will surpass $100,000, Peterson said.

Is it all too good to be true?

On Sunday night at Good Times, about 30 potential candidates picked to audition for the show were eager to cash in — with hopes of reality TV stardom floating in their minds.

A St. Louis waiter, Dan Gitt, 29, applied after seeing an ad on Craigslist.

"When I told my dad, he thought it was some kind of scam," Gitt said. "I figured I had nothing to lose. I did research on Chris. He’s legit."

He pauses and acknowledges everyone’s initial skepticism. "It’s still kind of weird. But when ‘Survivor’ first came out, what were people saying when they showed up for casting at that? At some point in your life, you have to put blind faith in something and hope it is what it seems. Sometimes it is."

Peterson is the show’s congenial host, and he insists that he won’t turn "American Dream" into the intense and profanity-filled "Hell’s Kitchen."

Peterson could continue developing an "American Dream" series. Good Times could receive untold amounts of publicity if the show is broadcast, and Peterson’s negotiations with the production company have been detailed to the point that he gets book rights.

On Sunday and Monday morning, people auditioning were interviewed and worked as teams at Good Times to develop a new appetizer — both done while cameras rolled.

Milwaukee’s Robert Klemm, 27, is one of the show’s candidates. He makes pizzas for a living. "There’s a mix of people here," he said. "Some have culinary degrees. Some have served or worked at a bar. And a few of us are from the school of hard knocks who start at the bottom and work our way up and learn as we go."

Peterson and his staff at Good Times will select the winner. Good Times is roomy enough that customers could participate in tapings this summer or eat away from the heavily lit filming. Though the show’s Web site, realitytvjob.com, is still operating, it appears that Peterson may have his finalists after Sunday-night tapings in the next two weeks.

Angelika Matthews, of Minneapolis, hopes to be one of them.

Asked on Sunday if she’d trade her full-time job in real estate to pursue running a restaurant through reality TV, she said, "In a heartbeat."


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