As the date for the third annual realscreen Factual Entertainment Forum approaches, realscreen shines the spotlight on the reality genre and the producers making waves within it. Here we talk to Leslie Greif, founder and CEO of Thinkfactory Media, producer of the long-running docusoap Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
You recently rebranded your company from Boutique TV to Thinkfactory Media. Why did you feel that was necessary and does it mean you’ll be diversifying your offering?
I have great producers, Adam Reed and Adam Freeman, and I wanted to be able to build this as a company rather than having it focused around me. A successful company is never hinged on one person but is based on the pooled efforts and cumulative talents of those you work with closely.
While our focus has been on reality for the last few years, since I come from the scripted world as well, we feel we needed to diversify and produce in all mediums to stay current, relevant and hedge our bets.
Right now, we’re in the process of doing a number of scripted things including two features, a mini [the recently announced Kevin Costner project with History], and we’re in the pilot world.
One of your most successful programs is Gene Simmons Family Jewels, and you’ve recently launched Sinbad: It’s Just Family. Do you feel celebreality still has legs?
I think it’s a challenging sub-genre. Some consider The Osbournes the first, as it was the first raw reality show taking you into someone’s personal life. But while The Osbournes didn’t really have a structure, it was sort of raw vérité, with Gene, it’s more of a reality situation comedy where we’re able to take their real lives and put them into the context of entertainment and fun. So we were first in that regard. Trying to do a new celebrity show is always difficult. Are fans still interested in them? Why? Is it “trainwreck?” Is it compelling or dramatic?
As someone who has being doing this for a while, what are the main challenges you see today in producing unscripted?
Because there’s so much competition out there, as all the networks are clamoring for reality, the challenge is to try to find truly interesting characters in an interesting world that isn’t necessarily extreme. At a certain point, everything becomes so extreme it becomes the theatre of the absurd. When is reality great TV with great storytelling, versus theatre of the absurd? Every producer and network has to figure out for itself how far it wants to take the audience.
Reality seems to be hotter than ever, with even more cable nets bolstering their unscripted content, and new series performing well for broadcasters. Do you think it will ever reach a tipping point?
In the old days you’d have cable shows and broadcast network shows, and now the audience looks at something as a TV show. The line had blurred recently but it might now be invisible. So with networks seeing a big audience for the unscripted world, if they can get a bigger audience or an equal audience to a scripted show for a fraction of the cost, there’s a business model that will always keep unscripted out there.
“Gene Simmons Family Jewels” will be the subject of a panel at the third annual realscreen Factual Entertainment Forum in Santa Monica on June 1 and 2. Simmons, his partner Shannon Tweed and their two children, as well as Thinkfactory Media EP Adam Freeman, will be in conversation with TV Guide LA bureau chief Mike Schneider. For more information, visit the website.