Reality show Utopia created a kind of dystopia for other producers when Fox cancelled it in November after less than two months. The social experiment in building a new society, based on a show from the Netherlands, “was badly cast and executed,” Bunim-Murray Productions chairman Jonathan Murray told the annual NATPE Market & Conference today. “It hurts us all when there are mix-ups like that.”
The failure illustrated that major broadcasters often are short-sighted when they look to model shows after overseas successes. “We have innovative ideas in America that we’re coming up with,” Murray says. “But trying to get CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox to take those ideas seriously is hard.” When they go with an overseas concept, then “if it fails, they can say, ‘Well, it worked in Israel or it worked in Holland’ — I’m sounding like Sarah Palin now.”
Still the reality TV pioneer who co-created MTV’s The Real World, and fellow panelist Cris Abrego — co-CEO in North America for the Endemol Shine Group — say they’re optimistic about the genre. “That’s the bright side of unscripted: We’re so quick to adapt,” Abrego says. “There’s a ton of creativity out there, a ton of great ideas….Eight years ago everyone was cursing reality TV, right around the strike. We were going to ruin television. But now it’s some of the best television.”
Producers have to keep networks and their budgets in mind when they pitch their ideas. “An hour show has to be $275,000 a week, but another network will give you $550,000 and a broadcast network will give you $850,000 to $1.1 million depending on what time and what night they’re going to use it,” Murray says. Yet many concepts can only go to a few networks because they’re “so perfect for that audience.”
And some ideas aren’t good for anyone, as Murray discovered when he came up with a show proposal called The Tragedy Tour. “I wanted to take people who’d had some big loss in their life, or some major illness. And they were going to learn stand-up comedy to get over it, and that was part of the healing process. The ancillary was that they would take it on tour and be in clubs. I thought it was a good idea. Apparently it was the weirdest pitch, according to the networks that I pitched it to.”
Check out the full NATPE discussion above (starts at the 11:30 mark).