HRTS Panel: 'Crowded' Reality Space Needs 'Fresh' Ideas

Reality producers talk live vs taped, editing, casting during newsmaker luncheon event
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With the seemingly endless parade of reality series, the need for "fresh" ideas has become more paramount.

That was the takeaway from a panel of reality producers who were gathered Thursday at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., as part of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's "Unscripted Hitmakers" Newsmaker Luncheon.

"It's a very crowded space," said Conrad Green, executive producer of ABC's Dancing With the Stars. "The stronger ones will survive."

Mike Fleiss, who executive produces ABC's Bachelor franchise, says that viewers don't take to reality series the way they used to. He argued it was due to everyone copycatting one another. "It was more fun [20 years ago] because people were taking chances," said Fleiss. "There are some great shows on TV, but most of it is the most derivative content."

While new ideas can be hard to come by, especially with the plethora of reality series out there, Eli Holzman says an untapped idea is the corporate workplace. "Undercover Boss has shown us how interesting the workplace can be," said Holzman, who executive produces CBS' Boss and AMC'sThe Pitch, which premieres April 30 and takes viewers inside the inner workings of an ad agency.

The panel also agreed that the cast of a reality series is just as important as the series itself.

"We need to make each season have a slightly different feel to it," said Green, but also noted that casting for DWTS is a bit different because viewers are already familiar with the contestants.

It's not just about who you get; the size of the cast matters as well. Kris Jenner, who created and stars in E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians, said that with the enormous "cast" of her series, there is a lot of footage that gets left on the cutting room floor. "You're seeing 22 minutes of something we filmed for 24 hours," said Jenner, who went to say that having such a large cast also means her show is less repetitive.

"The strength of reality TV is how reactive it can be," said Brent Montgomery, executive producer of History Channel's Pawn Stars, who says the genre allows for playing on real human emotions instead of scripted ones. "It's on us to produce shows that resonate at that moment."

"A lot of the credit goes to the networks that let us take chances," said Bertram van Munster, co-creator and executive producer of CBS' The Amazing Race.

One thing that reality producers cannot fall victim to, according to Fleiss, is the "staging" of scenes, because it ruins the authenticity. "Once you start going down that path, it's really treacherous," said Fleiss. "We have enough weird stuff that comes out of [our] show."

The panel was briefly interrupted midway by a faulty fire alarm at the hotel. "Should we be leaving now?" asked Tom Bergeron, host of Dancing With the Stars, who moderated the panel. "You realize if we all burn to the ground, what a story this will be."

"We cleared out the deadwood though, didn't we" quipped Bergeron after it was announced it was a false alarm, as some in the audience weren't taking any chances.

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