When Virginia-based prodco New Dominion Pictures started out they quickly became known as ‘the reenactment guys,’ says David O’Donnell, head of development. ‘We made our name with true crime docudramas like The New Detectives and The FBI Files and we ended up doing a bunch of those,’ he says. ‘We literally did 100s of hours and we were producing them really quickly so it was in our best interest to keep everything in house at the time.’ Because this was their specialty, NDP had full time department heads for all the shooting they did as well as a studio, a sound stage and a back lot. Now, according to O’Donnell, because of the changes in the content market, their projects aren’t quite as reenactment heavy because the company found that style of programming was becoming a lot less popular. This also means internal, structural changes for the company.
‘We’ve sort of scaled down to a creative and business core,’ says O’Donnell. Now, rather than building all of their programs in-house, the strategy for NDP is to form alliances with executive producers and show runners in specific genres putting them at the head of production on, say, a science program or a reality show. ‘We were sort of an anomaly because we were an independent production company but we did everything in house except for music and writing,’ remembers O’Donnell. ‘Now we’re just becoming a little more like everyone else where we have a small creative and business core and we’ll hire people per project as we go up and down.’
While O’Donnell sees reenactment losing favor with broadcasters and audiences, what he sees gaining popularity is real characters. ‘Several times I’ve gone to a network and asked, ‘what are you guys looking for now?’ and they say, ‘find an amazing character and we’ll build a show around them,” he says. ‘That’s been an interesting shift.’ Another change O’Donnell is watching is all the rebranding and refocusing at broadcasters. Unfortunately the prodco’s popular eerie program A Haunting (pictured) was taken off of Discovery because it no longer fits the channel’s direction, even though it did well in the ratings.
While the ‘reenactment guys’ are changing their direction, the company won’t be giving up on its roots completely. True crime programs will remain on the NDP slate, as long as those types of programs have an audience. The aim now is to add some new program styles to the repetoire. ‘we’re just expanding the scope a little bit to deal with some other fresher genres,’ says O’Donnell. ‘But not trying to do everything.’