“Utopia,” described by a network executive as “the largest, most ambitious social experiment on television,” premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday on Fox with a two-hour episode.
The series features 14 “pioneers” who committed to spend a year in a rural area about an hour north of Los Angeles to create a society from scratch, seeking to answer the question: “If you could restart the world, what would you do differently?”
“Utopia” will address “fascinating and fundamental questions about human law, morality and social structures, wrapped in an irresistible and truly forward-thinking television format,” said Simon Andreae, Fox Broadcasting’s executive vice president of alternative programming.
“We don’t really see this primarily as a TV show,” Andreae told reporters on a conference call last week.
“We see it as a social experiment, as a world that we have set up that abandons and takes for granted nothing about contemporary society in which all the pioneers are rethinking all the fundamental tenets of civilization from scratch, with everything on the table.”
“Utopia” was originally intended to have 15 participants.
However, Andrea Cox, a 38-year-old vegan chef from San Diego, was dropped for breaching her contract. She had a smartphone with her when the “pioneers” were being briefed for a week before the start of production and searched for information about her fellow pioneers, who will soon choose a 15th participant, Andreae said.
The initial version of “Utopia” premiered in the Netherlands in January and was the most-watched program in its time slot for 10 consecutive nights. It was created by John de Mol, who has developed such series as “The Voice,” “Big Brother,” “Deal or No Deal” and “Fear Factor.”
Although Andreae insists “Utopia” is “not an elimination show” and there is not a big cash prize to the winner, participants are subjected to being voted out.
Once per month, the pioneers and viewers will vote on who should be eliminated, based upon their contribution to society.
Anyone receiving two or more votes to be eliminated are subject to be replaced by two new arrivals. The pioneers and viewers pick one of the two new arrivals to become a permanent member and that person then decides which person is eliminated.
One difference between the American and Dutch versions is that producers have made it harder for the American pioneers than their Dutch counterparts because “the show in the Netherlands was seen as almost starting them off a little too easy,” executive producer Jon Kroll said.
The pioneers were given $5,000 “to order whatever they want,” Kroll said, and are also using “some scraps and bits and pieces that are lying around the compound.”
“Utopia” “isn’t a show about hardship,” executive producer Conrad Green said during Fox’s portion of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour.
“This isn’t a survival show,” Green said. “This is a show about societies, about being viable, about how you structure a society.”
The pioneers include Dedeker Winston, a model and motion capture artist from Los Angeles, and Bri Nyugen, a veterinary technician and student from Westminster.
Winston said she wants her fellow pioneers to feel safe, warm and comfortable with her non-traditional sexuality, polyamory, which involves having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the consent of all involved.
“I’m not a freak,” the 26-year-old Winston said. “I’m not a sex addict. This is not a kink.”
Winston describes her skills as cheese making and social mediating.
Nyugen said she is passionate about animal rights and sustainability. Her skills are farming, raising livestock, horseback riding, canning fruits and vegetables and building huts.
The 20-year-old Nyugen said “it would be nice to be the prettiest girl in Utopia. That way I could have my pick of the men.”
Other pioneers include “5th Avenue” Dave Green, described by Fox as a 31-year-old “former drug dealer and burglar who’s been in and out of jail since 17”; Jonathan Lovelace, a 44-year-old pastor from Church Hill, Tennessee; and Amanda Scot, a 30-year-old pregnant behavioral specialist from Seattle.
The series will regularly air at 8 p.m. Tuesdays. It will also air at 8 p.m. Fridays for six consecutive weeks beginning Friday.
Viewers can also watch live streaming video and other exclusive content 24 hours a day on UtopiaTV.com and the Utopia app, which is available for iOS, Android and Windows.