Keeping it real with RelativityREAL’s CEO Tom Forman

RelativityREAL, the non-fiction/alternative production venture from Relativity Media's Ryan Kavanaugh and Tom Forman from Tom Forman Productions, has been working at a rapid pace since its creation 18 months ago. CEO Forman tells realscreen about its busy slate and its status as 'a producer shop.'
April 1, 2010

RelativityREAL, the non-fiction/alternative production venture from Relativity Media’s Ryan Kavanaugh and Tom Forman from Tom Forman Productions, has been working at a rapid pace since its creation 18 months ago. CEO Forman tells realscreen about its busy slate and its status as ‘a producer shop.’

How many projects are you currently working on?
We’ve probably got over 30 things going on. We make a show called Police Women [of Maricopa County] for TLC [the sequel to Police Women of Broward County]. The second cycle is airing now and the third cycle is in production. We have a pilot for CBS that just got announced, Beat the Chefs. It’s a great, really simple show where home chefs square off against professional chefs. I’m currently highly stressed about that because it shoots in four days. We’re airing a series on TLC right now called Little Chocolatiers and we’re out the door on a bunch of pilots. We’re busy.

What is RelativityREAL’s approach to creating factual TV?
Most of us were news producers and documentarians, almost all on the East Coast before moving to Los Angeles. There’s a lot of doc in our DNA. [We have] a core belief that real people are interesting. The good stuff happens somewhere between New York and Los Angeles. We tend to shoot most of our shows on the road with real people, not celebrities.

What is your relationship like with your parent company Relativity?
We could not have better partners. Relativity Media looked at a number of strategies to get into TV, everything from deficit financing scripted slates, which is their business model on the theatrical motion pictures side, to big unscripted acquisitions. Ryan Kavanaugh and I ultimately decided to [create a] joint venture [for] this new company. Rather than buy it, we would build it. Since then, they’ve left us alone to do our thing. They’re there if we need the clout of being part of a big company. I now wear two hats as the CEO of RelativityREAL and the president of television for Relativity Media and we are doing this while exploring other television opportunities. We’ll announce some of those soon.

There was a recent Vanity Fair article about Kavanaugh and his formula for financing features, dubbed a ‘risk-assessment algorithm.’ Do you use this formula in what you produce?
No. I think those guys do an incredible thing putting metrics around movies, [but] certainly in the world of factual, unscripted and reality television, it’s just impossible. It is an entirely different business model from the top down. TV is really tricky and unfortunately so much of it is out of your hands as a producer. We did an adoption reunion show for ABC called Find my Family [produced with RDF USA] that I think is one of the best things I think I’ve done in the past 10 years. It did okay; numbers weren’t as strong as I would’ve liked and some of that is in promotion, some of that is time slot and some of it is lead-in. Some of it is probably the show itself and whether it connects with people on a visceral level; you’re never going to know that unless you take a leap of faith and put it on the air and see.

You’ve signed development deals with a range of people, including actress Ashley Tisdale, actor/producer Wilmer Valderrama and producers Ellen Rakieten, Jay Blumenfield and Tony Marsh. How do these partnerships work for RelativityREAL?
We really believe in overall deals, though I know they’re increasingly harder to find and other companies have shied away from them. This is a producer shop. I did not come up as a development exec and [become] a CEO. I was a television executive producer and still am. What we’ve looked for are other people who came up the same way, who have a lot of ideas, can develop those ideas, and can produce them when they sell. People who would feel handcuffed at a big studio. In [the cases of] Jay, Tony, Ellen and Wilmer that was true. Ashley was a little different; she’s known as an actress, but clearly has her finger on the pulse of what 24-year-old girls want to watch. I know enough about me that I know I really don’t.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.