Lyle's Reality: A Channel To Program
Fine-tunes unscripted fare on new Fox cable network
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/12/2005 8:00:00 PM
From Australia to America, he has heard it called “factual entertainment” and “emotainment” and “lifestyle programming.” But to David Lyle, it's all reality TV.
The Sydney native just launched Fox Reality Channel as its COO/GM, bringing to the role more than 25 years of experience developing unscripted shows around the world, along with a personal fascination with the genre.
“I don't think anyone's ever left school saying, 'I want to get into reality television,”—except for him, Lyle says. “To me, getting the chance to work in reality television was a dream come true.”
That might sound like an unlikely aspiration, but not after you hear him describe his family life while growing up, which was TV-intensive even by contemporary standards. The television set was often on and usually tuned to U.S. fare, he says, and family talk frequently centered on the tube.
“If you didn't know who the third actor on the left was, you were just out of the conversation,” he says.
After a brief stint in mining upon graduating from Sydney University with a degree in geology in 1972, Lyle moved into Australian TV, first as a researcher, then as a writer and producer for talk and entertainment shows. At Sydney's Nine Network, he created quiz shows and original unscripted fare, in addition to executive-producing the local Today show. He later became head of development and acquisitions for the network.
Launched 'American idol'
While working as a segment producer in the 1980s, Lyle put his TV-soaked upbringing to use by moonlighting Thursday nights on a two-hour radio quiz show in which he tried to best callers on random TV trivia. “The Brady Bunch kids, Roy Rogers' horse,” he says. “All this trivia you don't ever set out to learn just lodges in your head.”
As he rose in the ranks at Nine, Lyle at one point worked under international-TV vet Sam Chisholm, who taught Lyle a mantra he still tries to follow: “Winners have parties, losers have meetings.”
Lyle moved to London in 1999, going to work for production company Pearson Television, where he coordinated international projects and bought U.S. and international unscripted fare as worldwide head of acquisition and development.
He jumped into the U.S. market in 2001 as president of entertainment at FremantleMedia North America, where he launched American Idol and produced reality shows for a slew of broadcast and cable networks.
“People's responses are the same the world over,” Lyle says. “The key to reality success is emotional reaction: laugh, gasp or cry.”
Now Lyle is heading up Fox Reality, which launched last month on DirecTV. The network is now in 18.5 million homes through deals with DirecTV, Dish, Cox, Adelphia and Insight and aims to be in 23 million to 25 million in the next couple of months.
Lyle is targeting an 18-34 audience with familiar acquired shows (Last Comic Standing, The Swan) beefed up with behind-the-scenes footage or commentary by ex-contestants. With other cable networks increasingly presenting themselves as competition for off-net rights to reality shows, Lyle is hunting down “the best shows at a realistic price,” no pun intended, buying 10%-15% of them from overseas.
He plans to launch a weekly reality recap show in the fall and an original series by next year. He's still mulling ideas for the show but wants it to be “proud to be a reality show”—meaning cameras trailing a celebrity are out.
“Tears, Paint and tears”
Lyle says he's “a little distressed” at the lack of funny reality shows on TV now. He notes a growing preference for self-contained episodes (save, of course, for the ultimate arced show, Idol) and a glut of both documentary-style and aspirational reality shows, like ABC's successful Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which he describes as a cycle of “tears, paint and tears.” Lyle, who worked on a version of the show in Australia called Our House, says, “Oddly enough, the public will watch it week after week, almost frame for frame—different renovations, different tears.”
Lyle “has got the same enthusiasm for reality television as its most loyal fans,” says Tony Vinciquerra, president/CEO of Fox Networks Group. “He's the perfect person to get this channel up and running, and we're very fortunate to have him on our team.”
Lyle's hobbies include hiking and surfing, although he prefers riding the waves in Australia (in the U.S., his surfing tends to be of the channel variety; he makes a point of catching at least one episode of each new reality show).
He also likes to paint with watercolors. That should have made him a fan of the British reality show called Watercolour Challenge, which dispatched painters into the countryside to see who could render the best picture of their surroundings. But Lyle was hardly riveted: “It was very bizarre—so English, better than sleeping pills.” So don't look for Watercolor Idol on Fox Reality. After all, Lyle would rather have a party than a meeting.
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