Heard at the Summit: Copycat non-fiction “hurts all of us”

A&E's Robert DeBitetto calls the copycat trend "the one thing we're collectively doing wrong" during Summit session.
February 3, 2011

(Photo: Rahoul Ghose. L to R: NGC’s Steve Schiffman, A&E’s Robert DeBitetto and Reveille’s Howard T. Owens)

The increasing number of cookie-cutter formats, bandwagon projects and copycat programs airing across U.S. networks risks damaging the industry as a whole, Realscreen Summit delegates were told today.

Talking at the closing panel of this year’s Realscreen Summit, entitled Weathering the Storm, Robert DeBitetto, president and general manager of A&E and Bio, said that while rip-off shows were nothing new, over the past year the situation had worsened – to a point where it is beginning to have a negative effect on the industry as a whole.

“Lately I’m seeing some shameless copying going on – the fact of the matter is, at a certain point, it starts to hurt all of us,” said DeBitetto, who also called the trend “the one thing we’re collectively doing wrong.”

His comments inspired other panelists to remark on the abundance of pawn shows coming to air and came amid much discussion at the Summit on the amount of cupcake, little person and dangerous job-related shows on the market.

Elsewhere on the panel, Steve Schiffman, president of National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild, used the session to announce that The Dog Whisperer – the network’s Cesar Millan-fronted ratings winner – would be shifting over from the main Nat Geo channel to the newer Wild channel, adding that the move would be “really good for advertisers.”

Commenting on a broader trend in non-fiction, Schiffman noted that “personality based series in factual entertainment are clearly very important,” something DeBitetto echoed, remarking on the success of shows such as Discovery’s MythBusters and History’s Pawn Stars.

The speakers also noted the increasing importance of social media to the non-fiction space, although Endemol North America chairman David Goldberg expressed surprise that networks weren’t doing more to capitalize on the fan communities congregating around tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

He added that surviving in the TV business meant having a variety of different income streams, citing the fact that Endemol relied on original commissions, international format sales and money from syndication with shows such as Fear Factor and Wipeout in syndication. “You have to throw out a very wide net,” said Goldberg.

Also appearing on the panel were Howard T. Owens, managing director ogf Reveille; Craig Piligian, president, CEO and executive producer of Pilgrim Films & Television, and Evan Shapiro, president of IFC tv and Sundance Channel, who moderated the discussion.

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.