Stella Stolper tapped into the niche celebreality market when it was in its infancy; first by helping to launch the genre as VH1′s senior vice president of celebrity talent development, then by co-founding Ish Entertainment with Michael Hirschorn and developing shows like Paris Hilton’s My New BFF and 50 Cent: The Money and the Power. Now focusing on her new Reveille-backed company Wikked Entertainment, Stolper tells realscreen what makes a celeb a good fit for Wikked, and for reality programming.
Wikked’s core team is a small one, with Stolper and just two executives, but the Reveille partnership gives the company legs, with financial, production and distribution support.
‘I ran celebrity development at VH1 for half a decade and the obvious next venture was to go the entrepreneurial route,’ says Stolper. ‘Reveille is a massive infrastructure that we walk into and are able to go full steam ahead [with].’
The Hollywood-based company is currently working on shows for BET, MTV and Oxygen, and Stolper is constantly on the lookout for the next celebrity to add to the fold. They can be found in unusual places. ‘I saw a celebrity on an infomercial and I thought, ‘Wow, she’d be great to host her own show,” says Stolper. ‘The ideas don’t evolve in a generic way; sometimes I’ll see a celebrity’s wife and think she’s a star. If they’re in US Weekly and In Touch, odds are I don’t want to do a show with them because they’re saturating the market.’
Once talent is approached, Stolper says they’re sometimes shown an existing format from Reveille and parent company Shine Group’s catalog, giving the celeb a good idea of what to expect with their own show. However, sometimes they arrive with their own ideas in mind. ‘A celebrity always has an idea of what they want to do and you have to collaborate to make the idea bigger and louder and better,’ says Stolper.
She credits gut instinct as the key to most of her success in the celebreality genre, with rapper T.I. and Paris Hilton as examples of people she hedged her bets on. Both were celebs who were making news for perhaps the wrong reasons, but whose stories Stolper thought would make fascinating TV. For Hilton and the BFF series, Stolper says it was about making the media work for her by focusing on her show instead of her assorted scandals. The T.I. program, T.I.’s Road to Redemption, was produced by Ish Entertainment and focused on life lessons learned by the hip-hop star as he awaited the beginning of his one-year prison sentence for two felony gun charges.
‘What doesn’t work is if a talent isn’t fully committed,’ Stolper says. ‘It’s never going to work if they want to phone it in.’
As for Wikked’s mandate, Stolper says the plan for the new company is ‘to stay true to talent, grow talent and grow celebrities’ brands – not [to] do just one show with T.I. but to grow [his] empire.’