Programming

HRTS Panel: Managing Reality Talent Is a 'Dance to Play'

'Duck Dynasty' producer talks salary standoff with A&E hit's cast 3/27/2013 08:38:58 PM Eastern

A panel of unscripted producers at
Hollywood Radio & Television Society's Non-Scripted Hitmakers event
Wednesday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles revealed one of the
toughest aspects of maintaining a hit show -- managing the talent.

"You
want everything to be successful, and then when it gets successful you have
more problems that go along with it," said Craig Piligian, president and
CEO of Pilgram Studios, which produces such shows as Syfy's Ghost Hunters and
History's Only in America With Larry the
Cable Guy
, during the panel moderated by B&C Editor-in-Chief Melissa
Grego, adding that it's a "dance to play."

"It's
not a big problem, but then it becomes a big problem," continued Piligian.
"You have to deal with your talent; they're going to want a lot more
money."

Deidre
Gurney, who runs Gurney Productions -- which produces Duck Dynasty, is
currently dealing with some of those exact problems with the stars of the
popular A&E hit, which is currently in the middle of a salary standoff. She
is however, confident that a deal will get done.

"It's going to get done, but there are a
lot of factors at play." One of those factors is social media. "They want
immediate feedback about themselves... one negative Tweet really worries
[them]." The other roadblock is that the stars know they can make more
money through outside endeavors.

The
key is to remind them of what got them famous in the first place, the panel
contended. "It's easy to forget that the show is what leads them to all
the other opportunities," Gurney said.

She
said one challenge in the business is out-pricing yourself, because
negotiations first happen when the show is doing really well. "You know it
won't stay there forever."

Philip
Segal, CEO and executive producer of Original Productions, seconded that
notion, stating that the talent cost of his company's reality series Storage
Wars: LA
 is actually higher
than its production cost. "At a certain point there is a tipping
point," he said. "The network has to look at it and say 'what is the
value of this show?'"

Gurney
added that it's been difficult to see the Robertson family -- who run the Duck Commander company for which
the show is centered around -- go through it, but rests on the
relationship she has built with them. "If they trust you, you can help
them through it."

One way Gurnery thinks contract issues could be resolved in
the future is through ratings bonuses, something she hopes will one day become
the norm. . "I love this model," she said. "When a show blows up, the
stars benefit. If not, they don't feel cheated." When asked if Duck Dynasty has such a model, she was noncommittal.

"Nobody knows what's going to happen with
the show when it goes on the air," added Segal. He said one of the chief
causes for talent squabbles is that as soon as the network sees the show's
successful, it puts the talents' faces on billboards and other promotional
things, "and then they [the network] want to know why they're [the cast] a
problem."

Segal
also pointed out that the types of people who resonate with audiences are not
always the most stable. "They're genuinely crazy," he said.
"That's what makes them magnetic."

Dana
White, president, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), is thankful he
doesn't have to deal with many of the talent problems in the same the way the
others do, mainly because they are already locked into their deals.

He
said the FX reality series The
Ultimate Fighter
 is filmed in
canon and that it's not until months later when the show airs when things can
get tricky.

"As
soon as that thing airs, then it gets weird," said White. "Everywhere
they go, people recognize them and start asking them for autographs and
pictures."

White
also touched on another hot topic during the discussion: where they see the
reality business heading. For White, the growth in the UFC
comes in the female gender, with the upcoming season of Ultimate Fighter featuring two women coaches and
fighters. "I never thought that women would fight in the UFC,"
he said. "That's how big the sports has grown." 

White
also recalled the chirps he heard from those in the industry who thought the UFC
was not a worthwhile investment. "When we bought the UFC
[for $2 million], people thought it was the dumbest purchase in the history of
the world."

Eli
Holzman, president of All3Media America, talked about the benefits of smaller,
independent companies partnering up with larger ones, saying that it provides
more resources. "As our business booms, if you have the ability to
identify and grab or take the best people in the business, then you have an
advantage," he said, arguing that smaller companies can have too much to
handle.

"A
strategic partner like that can be very beneficial, but you have to learn how
to work with them," said Segal, whose own company recently partnered with
FremantleMedia. "It
gives you this opportunity to really have a global reach," he said.
"Fremantle has really allowed us to continue to do all the kinds of things
you can't do as a small independent."

 Piligian,
for his part however, likes the freedom of not having to answer to corporate
bosses. "I like staying independent. I think you work harder as an independent."

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