TV

Summit 2012: Zalaznick dissects anatomy of reality

Lauren Zalaznick (pictured), chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media, kicked off the 2012 Realscreen Summit this morning with a detailed analysis of the elements that make reality TV shows work, rejecting the notion that people only want to watch a "train wreck" or "guilty pleasure."
January 30, 2012

Lauren Zalaznick at the 2012 Realscreen Summit. Photo: Rahoul Ghose

Lauren Zalaznick (pictured), chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media, kicked off the 2012 Realscreen Summit this morning with a detailed analysis of the elements that make reality TV shows work, rejecting the notion that people only want to watch a “train wreck” or “guilty pleasure.”

Taking to the stage at the Renaissance Hotel’s Renaissance Ballroom in Washington, DC, Zalaznick – whose role sees her in command of Bravo Media, Oxygen Media, Style, mun2, Sprout and Telemundo, among other responsibilities – dissected “why viewers connect so much to their favorite reality TV shows,” while embarking on a short recap of the history of the medium.

Zalaznick said that at any given time, the biggest shows on TV tend to reflects the values America shares as a nation at that time. She added that the reason viewers connect to certain shows were more complicated than the oft suggested usual suspects.

“I reject easy slams like ‘train wreck’ and ‘guilty pleasure,’” she said. “It’s just not a good enough description of why people actually watch what we do.”

Zalaznick highlighted four elements that the biggest reality shows tended to feature: “Me plus,” which suggests an onscreen character that is a slightly enhanced version of the viewer (“me but a bit better,” as she put it); “Emotional connection,” which involved characters developing in such a way so that the viewer bonds as the characters develop; “Rooting,” or cheering for underdogs; and “unusual circumstances,” or fish-out-of-water scenarios.

She went on to highlight the difference between shows such as Chopped and Top Chef, which appear on the surface to be quite similar, but when examined closer feature notable differences (Top Chef rates higher on “over-the-top characters,” Chopped features more “how to” elements).

Zalaznick also referred back to a prior statement that she had made regarding ratings, claiming that data is the new oil. She said the statement still held true, but clarified that “like oil, data needs to be refined.”

Before taking to the stage, Zalaznick was introduced by Robert DiBitetto, president and general manager of A&E Network and BIO Channel, who paid tribute to his colleague and friend.

DiBitetto also paid praise to the Realscreen Summit, telling delegates the event was “a force of nature” which has become “our premiere non-fiction programming event.”

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