In reality television, anyone can become a star. Anybody with a good idea can type it up, pitch it to a studio or network, score a contract as executive producer and in no time start driving a really cool car.
Executives who are pitched show ideas admit that novices really
can land on the fast track with a great idea. But most neophytes stumble because they haven't thought their idea all the way through.
"The No. 1 thing everyone is looking for is a game changer," says Jon Kroll, senior vice president of New Line Television, who is executive producer of Big Brother
and co-executive producer of Emmy-winning The Amazing Race, among many other reality shows. "It's an idea that as soon as it airs everyone will say, 'Why didn't I think of that?'
"Before we take any pitch to a network, we work it out beat by beat, act by act, and we can guarantee the buyer that we will deliver a show that will hold its audience from act to act and week to week."
But would-be reality producers can get creamed from the start. If the pitch meeting is a disaster, there will be no call tomorrow.
"The biggest mistake people make in pitching a project is not knowing the buyer," says Stuart Krasnow, executive producer on NBC's Average Joe
and Pax's upcoming Cold Turkey.
"If an idea sounds like it's for Spike TV with women in bikinis running up and down a beach, it will never find it's place after Will & Grace
Michael Selditch, director of Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, points out that the pitch meeting is also about forging a partnership. Make them want you.
"In these pitch meetings, you aren't just selling your idea; you're also selling yourself," he says. "You want to make a connection with them because it's not just about you're idea. They also have to work with you
if they buy it."
It's not like the world is searching for another reality producer. "The thing that people forget is that every network has their own development team," says Jacquie Jordan, a media consultant and supervising producer on AMC's Sunday Morning Shootout. "They're already coming up with ideas internally, so it's not like they're completely short on them."
But providing something extra—access to a person critical to the show, for instance—tells pitchees that the pitcher isn't simply tossing off an idea, but has thought the concept through. "If you want to do something with a private investigator, come to me with
the private investigator," says Daniel Laikind, executive producer of UPN's Amish in the City.
"Good ideas come from any place, especially in the world of reality," says Krasnow. "But if you have an inside track on a world that somebody else might not know much about, that's a tremendous advantage. It doesn't mean you're in a position to execute it, but that's when you partner with a producer who will be excited about the idea."
A pitch for a reality show can be as simple as typing up a one-sheet with the story arc and an overview of the show's first season. Or it could be done with a storyboard or videotape. And if you have your vision on video, so much the better.
"I'm a strong believer in having some sort of visual presentation," says Mark Itkin, executive vice president and worldwide head of syndication, cable and nonfiction programming at the William Morris Agency.
"[The reality genre] began with buyers looking at existing formats from overseas. Since the buyers are conditioned that way, if you can give them that visual presentation, you are one step ahead."
Adds Laikind, a little less diplomatically, "Every jackass has an idea, but the way you can make yourself special is if you are a jackass with a tape."