MIPCOM ’15: Lionsgate’s O’Connell, Iacono outline formats push

Speaking with realscreen in Cannes, Lionsgate's Jennifer O'Connell and Peter Iacono outline the company's growing alternative programming division and their plans to push into the unscripted formats space with shows such as the Ben Collins-fronted Stunt Driver.
October 7, 2015

It’s been just one month since former Core Media Group TV head Jennifer O’Connell (pictured) boarded Lionsgate as executive VP of alternative programming, but already the exec is aiming to accelerate the company’s work in unscripted formats.

Speaking with realscreen in Cannes, O’Connell and Peter Iacono - Lionsgate’s president of international television and digital distribution – outlined the company’s unscripted programming strategy going forward. “Alternative programming has been something we’ve done from time to time over the years and it has enjoyed some modest to good success but never had anyone who could really focus on it and develop it into an area that’s commensurate with the Lionsgate brand,” explains Iacono.

So far, the company – perhaps best known for such drama series as Orange is the New Black and Mad Men as well as the film franchises The Hunger Games and Twilight – has worked in unscripted largely through partnerships with other production companies. Its unscripted slate includes ABC Family’s Monica The Medium (with Trooper Entertainment); BET’s DeSean Jackson: Home Team (with Rogue Atlas); Hellavator for GSN (produced in association with Matador and Blumhouse Productions); and Christina Milian Turned Up for E!.

Prior to joining Core, O’Connell served as executive VP of Shed Media U.S., overseeing shows including The Real Housewives of New York City (Bravo) and Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC). At Lionsgate, the exec says formats will be her main focus – whether that’s a “big splashy network format” or a cable format – and she’ll continue to develop content largely through partnerships with producers such as Wipe Out creator Matt Kunitz, who inked a multi-year overall TV deal with Lionsgate in December, as well as The Hills helmer Adam DiVello, who signed an overall deal with Lionsgate this past August. The company in 2011 brought on former Magical Elves exec Eli Frankel in another overall deal.

But in addition to the partnerships, O’Connell ensures the company will also ramp up its in-house development.

“[The unscripted strategy] is still based on that pod model, and one of the things I’ll do is develop more in-house,” added O’Connell. “We have a very lean, hungry, aggressive team right now inside the company and me coming over is helpful in allowing that team to go out and sell and build, but we very much work with our partners. I may come up with an idea and think ‘Adam DiVello would be perfect.’ If I think that will sell the show the fastest, and Adam is in love with the idea, then we’ll partner up. We’ll continue to feed our people projects.”

The exec says Lionsgate is currently in development on a game app-based show and is also eyeing a dating and relationship program here at MIPCOM. She added that the pods are in development on a number of projects, with Kunitz overseeing “a lot of game stuff.” O’Connell says she’s interested in looking for the next iteration of The Hills with DiVello.

Also on the slate from Lionsgate UK is Stunt Driver with former Top Gear stunt man Ben Collins, also known as ‘The Stig.’ The program – produced in partnership with Wise Old Fox Productions – finds Collins sourcing the perfect car for James Bond-type Hollywood stunts with vehicles. Iacono says an hour-long special as well as a 90-minute director’s cut have so far been produced.

Both execs maintain that all content will serve the international market, with Iacono noting that Lionsgate’s unscripted programming will be “a two-way conversation that is meant to be global.”

With files from Barry Walsh.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.