RSW ’13: Murray, Salsano offer relationship counseling

Jon Murray, SallyAnn Salsano and network execs from Oxygen and TLC were among the panelists offering advice on maintaining prodco-network relationships at Realscreen West on Thursday (June 6).
June 7, 2013

Transparency and trust are key to healthy relationships between producers and networks, as attendees of the Relationship Counseling` panel at Realscreen West learned on Thursday (June 6).

But if you think there’s time to work on that trust, think again. Jonathan Murray, chairman of Bunim/Murray Productions, said building a great partnership begins early, in the development stage.

“If you’re changing the show [in development], you have to make it conform to the same budget. Give me a one sheet for what we sold, what the budget is, so it’s clear that we don’t add things in our excitement that we’re going to lose money on,” he said. “We see networks we work with as partners, and I don’t want to hide stuff from them, so when they see the first cut, they’re not surprised.”

Cori Abraham, SVP of development at Oxygen, noted that at her network, the aim is to get the team excited about a project, and feel like it is theirs.

“The truth is that we work with production companies who are very talented and capable and we’re paying for their vision,” she said. “If you don’t trust the production company and producers, and invest in that relationship, snowballing problems will happen throughout the production.”

Inevitably, the process of collaborating on a show with a network generates moments where the producer needs to push back.

“Once you get into this adventure, there’s a continuum of 10 push points along the way, and you have to decide how much you want to push,” said Murray. “You have to understand a network knows what their brand is, but you don’t want to be the yes man.”

SallyAnn Salsano, president of 495 Productions, was working with a network  she didn’t have a close relationship with, and chose to trust her gut and her new partners when things went awry on the project, contacting the network and looping them in.

“I had a project I was so gung-ho about, and I had a situation that got a little crazy, and I had to call in the network troops. Three executives dropped everything and hopped on a 14-hour flight,” she said. “They said ‘Thank God you called,’ and I said, ‘Thank God you came,’” she recalled. “In the end, that’s a hard choice to make. This is a new relationship, do you call them and say this is getting a little wonky? The answer is yes. The worst thing is [if] people can say you’re dishonest.”

Murray has a unique perspective on new relationships, having formed several new ones while working on the same show. Murray cites five or six different execs at MTV over The Real World‘s 21-year run, and he shared his tip for managing these partnerships.

“We’re in the process of retooling for the next season of Real World and we worked with a new MTV executive on a way to shake it up a little,” he said. “We have a rule with staff: Never say ‘we’ve done that before and that doesn’t work.’

“So far it’s a great collaboration; we’re really excited about the creative approach and I think we’ve come up with something that’s not jumping the shark or disenfranchising old viewers.”

Other panelists included Kinetic Content founder Chris Coelen, High Noon Entertainment CEO Jim Berger, and Discovery/TLC  group COO Edward Sabin.

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.