The magical ingredients to sustaining an unscripted show past Season 1 are ratings, profitability, authenticity, unpredictability, all-in commitment and changing up locations, according to top TV network executives and producers today during a panel at the Produced By Conference.
“The Kardashians – God bless them – they know this is the family business. As much as this is an invasive process, they double down every season,” said Jeff Jenkins, EVP Development and Programming at Bunim/Murray Productions and an executive producer of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, now shooting its 12th season for E!
“We’re really lucky that they keep giving and keep sharing. Ninety-eight percent of their real life, their real grist, is on camera,” Jenkins said. “It’s very rare to find a family that’s compelling and interesting, and can continue to share over a long period of time.”
The show has shot a whopping 164 episodes, just a few dozen behind I Love Lucy’s 181, Jenkins pointed out. To freshen up Kardashians season to season, the music and main title are switched up. The clan’s expanding family – new marriages, babies and younger siblings Kylie and Kendall Jenner now older and with their own storylines – has kept the show evolving.
“I want Kris Jenner to get IVF treatments, so we can keep growing our cast!” Jenkins joked about the Kardashians matriarch, to laughter from the audience.
Howard Lee, EVP Development and Production at TLC and GM at the Discovery Life Channel, said that while it’s tough going into Season 2 of an unscripted show — much less a Season 5, 6 or 7 — networks “want a Season 2.”
“That’s one less hole to fill,” he said. “The last thing we want to do on the buyers’ side is make that call, and say, ‘This is the last season.’ ” Lee acknowledged that ratings are the primary indicator of whether a show makes it beyond one season.
Clay Newbill, founder and president of Shark Tank producer 310 Entertainment, also agreed that network execs are committed to making a show successful. “I knew we had captured lightning in a bottle,” he said of Shark Tank, which is going into its eighth season.
Shark Tank, a structured reality TV show – different than a docu-style series such as Kardashians, or a competition program – also changes up its main title and music. To save money for the second season, the show cut its theme song, saving $400,000, Newbill said. “Ba-bam! We got a second season!” he said, grinning.
Newbill and Jenkins also recognized the appeal for audiences of international locations, such as Dubai as a Kardashians vacation spot.
“We’re lucky because with Keeping Up With The Kardashians other countries die to host them,” said Jenkins, noting that the first time the cast went to Dubai, there was “zero budget” for the trip — representatives in Dubai covered the cost.
After Newbill worked on Season 2 and Season 3 of MTV’s long-running The Real World, he helped developed Road Rules and influenced the show to travel and film beyond the U.S. He also worked on ABC’s The Bachelorette, pushing the show to also film overseas in romantic locales like Paris.
“If we want a Season 3 and beyond, we have to go international,” Newbill said of Road Rules. “That’s added to the life of the series.”