Summit ’13: Boxing series knocks out pitching competition

A docu-series about a group of young boxers who must overcome personal and economic obstacles to realize their dreams of athletic (and television) glory wowed the judging panel at this year's "So You Think You Can Pitch?" competition.
January 30, 2013

A stable of boxers took the stage – and the championship title – at this year’s “So You Think You Can Pitch?” competition at the Realscreen Summit.

Pitched by Dafna Yachin of Philadelphia-based production company Lunchbox Communications, The Stable is a docu-series about a group of young boxers that must overcome various personal and economic obstacles to realize their dreams of athletic (and television) glory.

Yachin – who began her pitch by lamenting how her feature doc Digital Dharma lost by a margin of “this much” to a comedic project that dealt with penis enlargement among other topics on the same stage two years ago –  impressed the judging panel with a slickly produced and edited sizzle reel that clearly communicated her storytelling and stylistic approach to the material.

She earned further kudos by inviting three shirtless and oiled-up cast members to the stage (pictured above), prompting session host Phil Keoghan of The Amazing Race to jokingly ask, “Is this intimidation?”

If so, the strategy worked.

The judges – Nancy Daniels, exec VP of production and development for Discovery Channel; Tim Duffy, senior VP of original series for Spike TV;  Robert Sharenow, exec VP of programming for Lifetime Networks; and Andy Singer, GM of Travel Channel – gave the pitch a 33 out of 40 and hailed the series idea as “airable” and “viable in the marketplace.”

“Your tape was beautifully done. It left all the other tapes in the dust,” said Sharenow, who added that he could see it appealing to the limited group of U.S. nets that greenlight high-end, obs-doc style series such as HBO or PBS.

Although Spike TV’s Tim Duffy said contractual obligations in the world of mixed-martial arts would likely prevent his cable network from ordering a series about boxing, he lauded Yachin as a “great storyteller.”

“I would love to hear more from you,” he said.

“I walked up to you at Realscreen West and you walked away,” Yachin replied, eliciting laughter from the panel.

Co-presented with distributor CABLEready, “So You Think You Can Pitch?” is one of the most popular sessions at the Realsceen Summit. It is structured much like a shiny floor-style reality competition series: a panel of programming execs evaluate timed, five-minute pitches by producers. Prizes for the winning pitch included a pass to the 2014 Realscreen Summit, a one-year subscription to CableU and a GoPro HD Helmet HERO Camera.

Overall the judges lauded all the contestants’ enthusiasm and professionalism, meaning they were able to spend more time evaluating the quality of the sizzle reels and show concepts.

Halifax, Nova Scotia-based producers Joanna Elliott and Jennifer Comeau of Ocean Entertainment pitched a female-skewing true crime series called To Catch A Killer in which a good-looking detective convenes a group of amateur sleuths to solve cold cases.

The duo promised to deliver eight one-hour episodes that featured more emotional journeys than bloody reconstructions, and some form of closure in the end, typically in the form of a suspect identity or a new break in the case.

However, the judges had trouble visualizing how the drama would unfold without recreating the crime scenes.

“I kind of know what act one and what act six are. How are you going to sustain an audience?” said Travel Channel’s Andy Singer. “It feels a little talky.”

“Overall a strong tape,” Daniels added. “I didn’t love your main character. He didn’t totally pop for me.”

She also felt like audiences would want to see the culprits convicted rather than merely identified, and speculated that naming a suspect on a television show could expose the producers and network to potential lawsuits.

Duffy agreed. “It feels a bit like kissing your sister,” he said of the proposed episode endings.

Up next were Sara Madsen and Korey Miller of Irving, Texas-based 1820 Productions whose charisma impressed the judges. Unfortunately their hybrid reality competition concept, Sing It Away, was less popular.

The series is about overweight singers attempting to lose weight in order to attain a ‘healthier’ – and thus more marketable – look and succeed in the music industry. Essentially a hybrid that blends elements of The Biggest Loser with American Idol, it elicited a mixed reaction from the judges who had a tough time understanding how the format would work.

Daniels and Sharenow felt the weight loss element would dilute the razzle-dazzle of the musical performances, while Duffy placed it in the Most Often Pitched or “M.O.P.S.” category.

“M.O.P.S. aren’t bad but you gotta blow us away with your take,” he said. “You gotta do one thing really well and you’re setting yourself up for a challenge.”

David Notman-Watt of Brighton, UK-based back2back productions’ brought a tittering energy and self-effacing wit that endeared him to the panel. He was shopping around Brian Johnson’s Highway To Hell, a 10 x 60-minutes factual entertainment automotive series starring AC/DC lead singer and racing fanatic Brian Johnson. According to Notman-Watt, Discovery-owned UK cable net Quest has already committed to finance a third of the project’s budget.

By delving into “man’s need for speed,” the producer promised the series would deliver “car pornography at its absolute finest.”

Notman-Watt’s sizzle reel comprised clips of AC/DC concert footage, Johnson testing out race cars and mingling with professional drivers. That wasn’t enough for Daniels, who said she could see it working on a smaller net on a smaller budget but complained that she didn’t learn anything about Johnson as a TV personality in the reel.

“Is he funny?” she asked. “That to me is a bit of a barrier.”

The rest of the panel had similar problems with the English rock star, who they felt wasn’t a household name  in America – a point Norman-Watt hotly contested by pointing out that AC/DC is one of the highest-selling musical acts in history and is poised to embark on a world tour.

The judges were unmoved.

“I had a lot of issues with this,” said Singer, who added that he had a hard time deciphering Johnson’s brogue in the tape. “I think your passion for AC/DC supersedes the show itself.”

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