RS West ’12: Casting is key

For a genre that relies on great characters, one charismatic cast member is often not enough for a reality series, according to a panel of experts holding court at Realscreen West.
June 1, 2012

(photo: Rahoul Ghose)

For a genre that relies on great characters, one charismatic cast member is often not enough for a reality series, according to a panel of experts holding court at the Realscreen West session ‘Characters Count.’

During the session, moderated by Justin Hochberg of the Hochberg Ebersol Company, TLC’s senior director of talent development and casting, Andrew Strauser, said that when Cake Boss star Buddy Valestro came upon his path, he needed more than just the bakery chef to propel a series, which ended with a broadening of the original pitch into one that included Valestro’s sisters, cousins and the bake shop itself.

In the case of E!’s recent docusoap Mrs. Eastwood and Company, Bunim/Murray chairman Jonathan Murray said that Dina Eastwood, wife of actor/director Clint Eastwood, approached him with a markedly different premise for the series.

While she wanted to focus on the South African boy group she was managing, Murray said he didn’t think that was enough for a series, and the final product added Dina Eastwood’s relationship with her daughters to the recipe. With the added focus on the daughters, Murray said he feels they can now produce five or six seasons of the series for E!

While every series should have a full cast of characters, History’s VP of development and programming, Mary Donahue, advised that shows also need returnable action and attention to story arcs.

In the case of Swamp People, Donahue said that History president and GM Nancy Dubuc told her to find an aspirational element to the program, which led to portraying the characters as “original pioneers.”

“We had the secret sauce on top of the format,” said Donahue. Representing the casting side, president/founder Robyn Kass of Kassting Inc said that she is always scouting for real people who should be in unscripted shows, and the less savvy they are about the star-making process in reality TV, the better.

“If you have to explain to them how to get an email address – [that's] gold,” she said.

Also taking part in the session was Rob Lee, president and founder of Bayonne Entertainment, producers of Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker and MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.