Diversity ruled at the seventh annual PGA Produced By conference which ended this afternoon. The two-day event looked a lot like America — a diverse mix of races and ethnicities, with women well represented on the panels and among the 1,400 people in attendance at the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood. The one exception was the last panel of the day: a discussion about the state of reality TV. All the panelists were men, and they were all white — and they were all very funny. And they all agreed that reality ain’t what it used to be; it’s now a much tougher business with cable networks continuing to slash costs as the market continues to fragment and ratings continue to dwindle.
“It’s much more difficult today,” said Brant Pinvidic, chief creative officer at 3 Ball Entertainment, producers of Extreme Weight Loss and Bar Rescue. “It feels like the wild, wild West again, but not in a good way.” The networks, he said, “are getting squeezed on their budgets and their overhead. At the end of the day, they are the only game in town and they call all the shots. Netflix isn’t buying reality, and you can’t make any money in reality on the Internet.”
Breaking into the game isn’t easy, either, though everyone thinks they’ve got a sure-fire idea for a hit reality show, he said. “People look at reality as an easy way to get into the industry. The other day, I was out surfing, and a doctor who was surfing next to me said, ‘Hey, I got a great idea for a reality show for you!’ And I said, ‘Great! I got a great idea for a new medical procedure for you!’ ”
And the networks think that each successful show can be reformatted ad nauseam. “Something would work and every network would want a version of it,” he said.
Brent Montgomery, CEO of Pawn Stars producer Leftfield Entertainment, recalled that in the early days of reality, “You could shoot for weeks and find the story in post (production). Now everything’s on a tight time frame.”
And there’s always a network exec hovering nearby, Pinvidic said. “There’s a lot more structure than there ever has been,” he observed.
Craig Armstrong, co-founder and CEO of 5X5 Media, producers of The Hero, said that the business is “changing almost monthly. The executive shuffle is happening more than I’ve ever seen. It’s kind of hard to keep up with.”
Chris Moore, producer of Good Will Hunting and American Pie, and reality shows Project Greenlight and The Chair, ribbed his fellow panelists that if the business is so bad, maybe they should get together and buy an In-N-Out burger franchise. He said that HBO had no problem giving Project Greenlight time to find its audience. “They said, ‘F*ck it, we’re HBO,’ and they just left it out there. We didn’t care about ratings.”
To which moderator Tim Gibbons, VP of the Producers Guild, said: “So the lesson is sell your reality show to HBO.”
Quipped Pinvidic: “I thought the moral was to buy an In-N-Out franchise.”