How has the TV industry changed in the last decade? It’s hard to say. On one hand, it really hasn’t changed all that much from when it began almost 60 years ago. Advertisers still wag the dog, an hour is still around 42 minutes, and every seller still thinks they are smarter than every buyer. On the other hand, there are just under a zillion new channels, we have HD, 1080p and 720i and, of course, the ‘old school’ standard definition. Beyond networks and cable exists the brave new world of broadband, even if we aren’t sure how to monetize it. But, bottom line, content is king, and if a show sucks, it still sucks even if you can see it in high-def.
One of the major changes is the growth in acceptance of what is affectionately called ‘alternative TV.’ This includes reality, docusoaps, variety and everything that is not a drama, comedy, game show or sport. Genres come and go and sitcoms are officially dead. Or, at least until the next good one comes along.
The good news is the reality business is booming. It’s a new genre that is attracting everyone and their mother. Today it seems as if anyone who used to have the ‘next great script’ now has the ‘next great reality show.’ Every parent, cab driver and waiter has the next ‘big hit.’ Oddly, most of the concepts reflect their worlds, and that’s why we see shows about parents choosing dates for their kids, immigrants who can’t drive, or someone pretty cooking in the kitchen. But it’s not as easy as it looks. Just ask David Kelly (The Law Firm), Joel Silver (Next Action Hero) or Steven Spielberg (The Lot).
So, where does reality go when Hollywood’s royalty fails? The end user, of course: the home audience. User-generated television, or UGTV, is the place where the audience can become the stars. It all started with the reality hit America’s Funniest Home Videos, and today it’s all about YouTube. It’s a world that is nipping at TV’s heels. Just search ‘laughing baby’ on YouTube and 18 million hits later you’ll find the next great reality idea.
There is no longer such a thing as 15 minutes of fame. It’s been condensed to five minutes and rest assured that – even for a minute – 300 million Americans are just a mere uplink away from a reality deal.
I suppose what has changed the most is not the hardware or the software – it’s the audience. We are an add nation. We love choices and bite-sized information that is only a click away. We can now watch what we want, when we want, where we want. For reality producers, or for that matter, all producers, it’s a pretty simple formula: solid story, amazing characters and maybe a great title.
And still, despite all the craziness, we get paid relatively large sums of money to shoot the real world. It’s our playground and new ideas and characters are everywhere. What could be better than that, other than getting paid $65 million to play infield for (insert team name here)?
Hey, come to think of it, maybe there’s an espn reality show idea in there somewhere…