The Reality TV Scene


Unscripted, semi-scripted, reality or whatever euphemism you chose, reality TV is a mainstay of our TV screens. It includes game shows, video clip/ blooper shows, competitions and reality TV.

This type of programming gained popularity with broadcasters and netcasters during the great writers strike of 2007/8. They needed content. It was also considerable cheaper to produce than its scripted counterparts.

Like all good stories, reality TV relies on strong characters, conflict and concept to provide series longevity. It’s the characters that the audience fall in love with and tune in every week to follow. Consider “The Biggest Loser”. Losing weight is not interesting in itself. It’s the will of both the contestants and audience alike that make this show a ratings winner.

The main difference between reality TV in America and the rest of the world is that American networks purchase full ownership of the property. They supposedly pay a premium for this right. In other parts of the world, especially Europe, transferring copyright ownership is unheard of. In these cases, producers receive royalties.

If you can access international co-production deals, your show becomes more attractive to American networks. There is a built in overseas fan base which can enhance the bottom line. This creates a “broad niche audience” that advertisers can target.

VOD, online streaming and other forms of netcasting are on the verge of proliferating when HTML5 and white band (faster than high speed broadband) become widespread. This will lead to greater target market segmentation and more boutique/niche/ specialty reality TV shows, purchased with on a subscription or pay per view basis. YouTube launched over 100 new channels all hungry for new content.

Major reality TV producers receive around 1000 pitches each every year. Many are either too derivative, unsuitable for the target demographics of the broadcaster, not a reality TV show, immoral/ illegal, or not fresh enough to sustain at least two seasons comprising 6 to 10 episodes each. Know the marketplace when you consider pitching a project.

Pitch meetings should be treated as business relationships. Producers may sway towards a great concept rather than a brilliant one, if you present as someone they want to work with. Ask the networks what they are looking for? What concepts they have in development and what they aren’t looking for.

Pitch meetings can be as short as 10 to 20 minutes or can run as long as an hour. If you land an extended meeting, you can potentially pitch 3 to 4 projects. Read the room and be aware of what producers/ networks are responding to.

You can bring name talent to your package if they help sell the show. Many networks supply their own talent, especially if they have certain relationships with advertisers and casting agents. They are also reliant on merchandising and output deals to further boost profitability of shows.

If you’re considering pitching a show, create a SIZZLE REEL for it. It should be a 2 to 3 minute overview of the content, feel, story trajectory and characters of the season. Budget at least $3000 for such a reel; possibly as high as $10000 if you can afford it.

If you’ve garnered some interest, you’ll need a PRESENTATION REEL. These are simply extended versions of sizzle reels and generally run from 5 to 10 minutes.

If your show is at an advanced state of development, shoot a 20 minute pilot episode.

Most reality TV employs non union labor, so the costs are relatively cheap. Basic cable networks may pay around $50000-$100000 per hour, premium cable networks may pay around $100000 to 400000 per hour and terrestrial channels up to $1 million per hour. This compares to $2 to 5 million per hour of scripted TV.

Since studios are still choking their feature film supply chain, reality TV is a viable alternative. It’s also a valid platform for telling stories in its own right.

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For in depth Film & TV script analysis visit Script Firm.

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2 Comments Add yours

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