(“So You Think You Can Pitch?” host Howie Mandel. Photo: Rahoul Ghose)
A competition series about women that undergo rigorous Navy SEALs training won the fourth annual “So You Think You Can Pitch” session at the 2012 Realscreen Summit. Billed as a “big, inspirational doc series,” Frogwomen follows 24 women as they endure the elite training regime and the emotional turmoil that goes along with it.
Producer Brian Krow of Warfront Real Productions spent 15 months developing the project under the guidance of a U.S. defense contractor and military experts. He noted in his pitch that U.S. law prohibits women from serving in direct combat roles and thus, the series can’t offer its winner a place with the SEALs – a point that did not go unnoticed by the judging panel assembled for the session.
“So You Think You Can Pitch?” is the Realscreen Summit’s public pitch session in which five producers present a project to four industry big wigs in a room full of delegates. This year’s highly discerning panel of judges was comprised of Simon Andreae, Discovery Channel’s SVP, development and production for the west coast; CABLEready president and CEO Gary Lico; NBC and Universal Television VP, alternative programming and development Brandon Riegg; and National Geographic Channel SVP, global development and production Bridget Whalen Hunnicutt. Comedian, veteran TV host and Mobbed exec producer Howie Mandel hosted the competition.
Krow scored points for the polished professionalism of his delivery and sizzle reel but the judges’ opinions were divided on the Frogwomen concept. While Lico and Whalen Hunicutt loved the pitch, lauding Krow for his confidence, experience and idea, Riegg and Andreae were skeptical.
“At the end of the day there’s not really something at stake,” said Riegg. “It’s contrived.”
Andreae, meanwhile, liked the slickness of the footage, but questioned who would watch the show: men or women? “I’m very puzzled by the title, which could very well be for a European cooking show,” he quipped.
All the projects, chosen by realscreen‘s editorial staff out of scores of submissions, were judged with similarly rigorous scrutiny.
The first to the podium was Kevin Dunn who presented the series Under Pressure: Chino Prison Divers. The show follows a group of prison inmates who train to dive on oil rigs. It had several ingredients producers of male-focused programming love: brotherhood, science, oil, prison, danger and redemption.
“I’m waiting on cupcakes,” Lico joked, who liked the idea but rated it with a seven because he felt it wasn’t the “game changer” buyers are looking for.
Whalen Hunnicutt agreed, but added the characters needed to be up front in the reel. “I want to actually hear the people speak and know about the dynamics,” she said.
Though Jeanne Simon and Doug Stanley of Sell Your TV Concept Now, Inc. took the stage to cheers from the crowd to present Reset, a motivational series about fallen sports stars trying to put their lives back together, the panel was less encouraging.
Lico called it an “admirable concept” but said, as a distributor, it would be a tough sell to cable networks. “There are not a lot of hours for shows like this anymore,” he said. “This first response from most buyers is, ‘We don’t do sports.’”
Whalen Hunnicutt’s issues with the show were more demographic oriented. She wasn’t convinced males would warm-up to the ‘female’ approach to rehabilitation and didn’t think women would care about the characters enough. Moreover, she felt the show’s host – ex-NBA player Michael Thompson – would make it a tough sell to broadcasters overseas.
Soniya Kirpalani from Sprocket Science Films fared slightly better with her documentary feature We The People. The film is about the families of 17 migrant workers from India that were sentenced to death in Dubai for the murder of one man. The director’s passion for the project came through in her artful imagery, and while the project had previously won at the MIPDoc Coproduction Challenge in 2011 and has received funding through a new Britdoc fund, the panel was confused by the focus and felt like she was missing the universal appeal inherent in a wrongfully accused-type case.
“It feels like a story but in presenting it you really want to get the feeling it’s the story,” Andreae said.
More polarizing was Dream Makers, from producer Sloane Cooper. The series is about a high-end theater school that Hollywood agents and Broadway look to when casting young children and although the producer avoided the obvious comparisons in her pitch, the judges had no qualms listing off a perceived likeness to Dance Moms and Glee.
Lico and Riegg liked it but Whalen Hunnicutt and Andreae did not.
“My gut reaction is there’s a clear beginning, middle, end drama here,” Riegg said, adding that the teaser was full of colorful characters and seemed reminiscent of the big talent competitions and musical theater shows. “I liked it.”
Andreae argued the Glee overtones would ultimately hurt the show because buyers are over-saturated with musical theater ideas.
Ultimately, Frogwomen prevailed with a score of 27 out of 40. As a prize, producer Brian Krow earned free admission to next year’s Realscreen Summit, a one-year subscription to CableU and a helmet camera, which many a frogwoman – of either the military or culinary varieties – could probably put to good use.