Execs from H2, Destination America, Disney Channel and the soon-to-launch Esquire Network discussed their commissioning needs and target demos during the ‘Amping Up Unscripted’ session at Realscreen West.
Laying out their stalls at the Santa Monica conference last Thursday (June 6), at a session moderated by realscreen editor and content director Barry Walsh, the assembled panel of commissioners told delegates at the Fairmont Miramar hotel what they were and weren’t looking for.
Paul Cabana, head of programming and development for H2 and senior exec producer for History, kicked off proceedings by stating that for History’s sister channel H2, last year was its best year to date, since its official rebranding as H2 in 2011.
Cabana said that with H2, “it’s really important that we establish a new brand” with programming that “shouldn’t feel like it could’ve been on History 10 years ago.”
He also told the crowd that it is not always the case that you need a strong track record of producing or a West Coast agent to pitch to cable nets, and recounted an encouraging story for the Realscreen West audience, explaining that “two years ago at a Realscreen event, a husband and wife couple… came up and pitched to me.”
Despite their lack of track record, he said, the couple landed a commission for their show America Unearthed, which went on to become H2′s top rated series. In January, it was renewed for a second season.
“So it does happen,” Cabana said.
Elsewhere at the session, Destination America’s general manager Marc Etkind said that he was constantly surprised that people continued to pitch him shows that are not set in America. To be very clear, he wants shows set in the States.
He also said he is not looking for knock-off versions of existing properties. “The next show that’s going to be as big as Duck Dynasty is going to be in a completely different space,” he said.
Etkind touted a stronger commitment to commissions and acquisitions than some of his rivals. “When we see something that we love, we jump in,” he promised. “You never hear us say, ‘We’re going to bury that,’ or going to buy it to keep it off the market.”
He added that Destination America consists of a small team of dedicated execs, who will give more attention to producers’ shows. “If you’ve met Sara [Kozak], Caroline [Perez] and me, you’ve pretty much met the network,” Etkind explained. “If we like a project, we’ll work with it from start to end – your success is our success.”
Also talking on the panel was Matt Hanna, head of original programming for the Esquire Network , which is set to replace U.S. cable net G4 on September 23.
Hanna detailed an upmarket channel that was interested in shows set in “urban centers,” rather than rural towns.
“The notion of the working class or the blue collar hero is not something that we’re interested in,” he explained. “I feel like a lot of other people do that very well. It’s a very crowded space.”
He also said he was not looking for any scripted titles at present. “We want to establish ourselves as an unscripted network,” he explained, adding that one-offs were also not on the menu.
“That’s not our focus – our focus is definitely on series.”
Hanna said there was “a white space” in the market for a high-end, male-skewing channel. “Guys like sports and ladies and cars… we’re looking for programming that can cover a broad range of those topics.”
He pointed to the difference between features in Esquire Magazine, such as ‘Women we Love,’ and objectifying or tackier articles about ‘hot babes’ in rival magazines, as an indication of the tone producers should consider. Esquire, Hanna said, wants to tackle male-skewing interests “at a slightly classier level.
“We are a men’s network 18-49, but we definitely think that the shows that we are gravitating towards are very female-friendly,” he added.
He explained that he was looking for programming in a whole range of different genres, and said he was somewhat inspired by MTV, which has been “confident enough to develop in many different genres.”
Finally, Judy Meyers, exec director of alternative and shortform programming for Disney Channels, discussed the Mouse House’s fledgling moves into unscripted.
“In the last three years we’ve started dipping our toes more into reality programming,” she said, but qualified that what the network was looking for was “so tiny, so specific,” that is was difficult to offer any kind of a blueprint.
“Everything we do has to be comedic,” she explained. “We’re not looking for docuseries or adult shows. Comedy has to be built into the DNA of everything we do.”
She added that she was also not looking for titles that might have co-viewing potential for adults – just kids shows, with a target demo of 8-16.
“For me, it’s hard to take pitches from people who can’t actually deliver it,” she warned, although she added that the commissions she had given out to date had tended to be to smaller producers, and not to the bigger U.S. indie prodcos.