Barely Famous, which entered season two on VH1 last month, is a mockumentary show starring sisters Sara and Erin Foster as semi-fictionalized versions of themselves. The pair are intent on infiltrating the Hollywood elite and are not above accosting guest stars such as Chelsea Handler, Jessica Alba and Cindy Crawford to do so.
The series, described in a recent Fast Company piece as “Curb Your Enthusiasm filtered through Bravo,” is produced by Carbone’s Good Clean Fun, a Los Angeles-based company with a reputation for celeb-driven unscripted.
Founded in 2007 after Carbone spent eight seasons as a producer on ABC’s The Bachelor, the company’s credits include Rev Run’s Sunday Suppers, which recently wrapped up its second season on Cooking Channel, the reality sitcom Meet The Smiths for TBS, the upcoming Travel Channel series Island Fever with Stewart Copeland and the Cindy Crawford-hosted Amazon pilot Endorsed.
Realscreen recently spoke with Carbone about upcoming projects as well as the state of celebreality and crafting unscripted for new content platforms.
How are you seeing celebreality evolving and how are you reacting to those changes?
Early on networks were thrilled to be in business with celebrities and thought about the concept second. Now we’re approaching saturation in the marketplace and having a celebrity show isn’t enough. It has to have a point of view and that point of view has to be reflective of the celebrities themselves. The days of a celebrity going on a show and phoning it in are over. We’re looking to find a lane that is probably not the way you would initially perceive a celebrity. Sometimes there are celebrity television shows where it feels like the celebrity is trying to make one show and the production company is trying to make another.
What qualities does a star need to bring to the table to ensure that doesn’t happen?
We have a term that we like to use called ‘wide open’ – [meaning] somebody that is going to present a self that isn’t self-regulated. If you don’t like something, let us regulate that in post-production. Know we are building your character and then that’s something we can address. If celebrities don’t provide us with options, then we have fewer things that we can do in post to make the best versions of them.
Is [Lifetime dramatic series] UnReal having an impact on the way reality television is produced?
My hope is that everybody is watching it with a grain of salt – not as the gospel of how The Bachelor is actually made because it’s a far cry from how that show is actually made.
There’s a reason cars don’t look like they did in the 1950s anymore. Tastes, wants, needs and desires change and that’s happening in the alternative space. I wouldn’t attribute it to UnReal, but I would say that you have audiences that are 20 years – in some instances almost 30 years – deep into reality television if you go all the way back to Cops and America’s Most Wanted. You have really sophisticated audiences so we’re being forced to make content not for the unsuspecting viewer, but for viewers who have watched this content for a really long time.
You’re working on Endorsed with Cindy Crawford for Amazon. Is the development process different than it would be for a show on linear TV?
It’s a similar process, but an ability to do more interesting things is starting to appear. Endorsed is a show that is really celebrating American companies that are on the come up that are doing interesting things and then finding a celebrity whose wants, needs and desires represent what the company is trying to do. In turn, because we’re doing it at Amazon, there is immediately a platform for these products. It’s the ability to watch a television show, be inspired and immediately purchase something. It’s going to be really interesting to see how that works. We think we can make an entertaining television show but if we’re driving commerce to Amazon, that’s a radical game changer.
Are brands paying to be involved?
We’re not looking for big brands. We’re looking for unique companies that are on the come up and might have a product nobody is aware of. By being on the show and with the help of a celebrity endorsement, they’re going to take their business to the next level.
Was the idea to make a show that could have synergy with Amazon’s wider business?
Ultimately, I think they’re interested in making an entertaining television show. I think the metrics of the business are a byproduct that are too large to be ignored.
How challenging is it to get reality greenlit by a platform such as Amazon or Netflix?
Brands are always looking to define their airspace. Bravo is a really good example because it was presenting opera and all of a sudden they put on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy and they found a voice. The VOD and pay platforms are trying to figure out what their voice is and when they find a hit it’ll help us all better define what they’re looking for.
Tell me about Island Fever. Why a travel show with Stewart Copeland from The Police?
As we got to know Stewart, what we discovered that while Stewart has circumnavigated the global a couple of times he’s largely done it looking through the window of a tour bus. There was a world of places that Stewart scratched the surface of, but never did a deep dive. This was his opportunity to go back and do that deep dive, embrace a culture, a location and have a great time. Travel’s demographic grew up with Stewart Copeland and so now you can travel through his lens.
How does the concept differ from other travelogue series?
Stewart is really active. He quite literally dove into stuff. He’s not a surfer. He went out and surfed the waves of Bali. He went to a temple and embraced the practices and there’s a ritual where there are all of these fresh springs where you go through and it’s there to purify. You’re seeing a travel show from an active point of view.
Why did VH1 greenlight a second season of Barely Famous?
We got a really positive critical response to season one and we got critical response from places that VH1 doesn’t traditionally get a critical response [from]. In season two we need to deliver better numbers than we did in season one and continue to deliver on the same caliber of expectations and quality in each episode.
What’s next for the company?
We’ve got a lot of stuff in the Barely Famous lane where we’re working with several different comedians and trying to figure out a hybrid show for them. For some people a traditional sitcom doesn’t make sense, but a hybrid show that allows them to be themselves and is not just a follow doc is exciting.