Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s conference coverage.
A group of cable network execs and producers shared their views on the ever-evolving reality TV landscape and how the sales game is changed this afternoon during a Produced By panel sponsored by Deadline Hollywood and entitled, “Reality Isn’t What it Used to Be: Selling Nonfiction Television.” “You used to be able to sell a show off of paper; you didn’t need tape,” recalled Stephanie Drachkovitch, a principal in 44 Blue Productions. “That’s much harder to do now. Also, what would have been a brilliant idea three years ago doesn’t make the bar. It’s not big enough, it’s not loud enough, it’s not gonna move the needle, it’s not gonna break through.” The reason for needing bigger and noisier programming ideas, she believes, is the sheer number of networks and venues doing original reality program content and vying for eyeballs. A&E’s Senior VP of Talent and Production Neil Cohen agreed that it takes a lot more juice for an idea to get sold and gain traction than it did even a couple of years ago. “It’s much more competitive and the expectations are much higher,” he said. “It used to be enough to enough to put a very primitive team together to sell to people like us. Now there’s the expectation that we’ll get a sense of the tone and storytelling style in the concept in the sizzle tape.”
That tape “now has to go through several levels of people and layers of decision-making,” Drachkovitch added. “I can’t always be in the room with that tape and fill in the blank of what it doesn’t show.” Another way in which the nonfiction business has radically changed is with regard to ownership, believes producer Phil Gurin (Shark Tank, Oh Sit!). He said that he now sees in his conversations with every group — whether it be broadcasters or cable networks — the fact that all have now sprouted divisions dedicated to an ownership interest in ideas. “It’s become harder to keep control of your idea,” Gurin said. “But I’ve come around to the fact that it’s OK. Because if a channel has skin in the game, if it’s motivated by being partners and is invested in it, they’re more likely to keep it on the air and help grow it. As a producer, I want the channel to be invested, because it ultimately benefits me in other ways aside from the bottom line.”