HRTS Luncheon Panel: Reality Needs New ‘Alternatives’

Genre’s future depends on fresh concepts, better communication among producers, networks and advertisers
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Reality TV is all grown up. But if the genre that got its start by being the “alternative” is going to keep playing with the big kids, producers and executives need to find what’s different all over again.

That’s according to a panel of top reality producers gathered Wednesday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for The Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s “Broadcasting Reality Newsmaker Luncheon.” Survivor host Jeff Probst moderated.

While reality, with its cost-effectiveness and natural advertising opportunities, stands to weather the economic storms as well as any form of entertainment content, shows in the maturing genre have started to look the same, which eats at all their success, the producers say.

“What’s changed is that the viewer is more discerning,” says panelist Arthur Smith, founder of A. Smith & Co. Productions and executive producer on Hell’s Kitchen. “You need to keep it fresh and take chances.”

“The next hit is going to come from people taking risks,” Smith adds.

Who Wants to Be A Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies, who is also president of Embassy Row, says that even in this economic climate, the challenge these days really is not the budget but rather trying to come up with next big thing: “We’re challenged creatively to try and see where reality is going next.”

“I’m looking for something that gets attention and that’s different,” Allison Grodner, president of Allison Grodner Productions and Big Brother executive producer said at the luncheon.

“Good producers take a lot of shots,” says Mike Fleiss, Next Entertainment founder and executive producer of The Bachelor. “You have to try a lot harder.”

Tyra Banks, executive producer of America’s Next Top Model and founder of Bankable Productions, says closer working relationships with producers also is key as it can make product integration more seamless for the audience. “I beg advertisers to really listen to the executive producers,” Banks says. “A lot of them [advertisers] fail to see how savvy the viewer is.”

“Producers are trying to be creative about how to integrate,” Smith says. “It’s not just a network thing. We’re thinking on behalf of the advertisers too.”

Clarity of concept – and communication about it among all parties involved – is vital to reality’s future, especially given the proliferation of ad integration in non-fiction, according to Mark Burnett, president of MBP and creator of Survivor. Often the creative executives tell the ad executives what they think the show is about and it’s pitched with third-hand information, Burnett says, stressing the importance of series creators being in those meeting with advertisers so that everyone gets a clear picture.  

The panel all agreed that the next hit is out there, and it’s just a matter of time before it emerges.

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