RSW ’13: Producers, execs give props to “Idol”

A panel of leading producers and network execs at Realscreen West agreed unanimously when discussing the unscripted show that has been most undeservedly overlooked by the Emmys: American Idol (pictured).
June 7, 2013

A panel of leading producers and network execs at Realscreen West agreed unanimously when discussing the unscripted show that has been most undeservedly overlooked by the Emmys: American Idol (pictured).

At the lively ‘Props Shops’ session, held June 5 at Realscreen West in Santa Monica, execs from companies including Spike, FremantleMedia and Magical Elves reflected on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ recently created Reality Peer Group, and the likely effect the Group will have in selecting the Emmys awarded in the Reality and Reality Competition categories.

The panel used the Group as a launching point to discuss the unscripted shows they feel have been most cruelly overlooked at the Emmys over the years, with unanimous support for Fox’s American Idol.

BermanBraun co-owner and founding partner Gail Berman said the show “changed the way our community works, changed the fate of the Fox Broadcasting Company, and had a tremendous meaning for the country post 9/11,” adding that it was ridiculous that it never won an Emmy.

She speculated that it may have “received a backlash by those people who were able to vote for it,” since its immense popularity led to unscripted shows replacing drama and comedy on many broadcasters’ schedules.

“It’s appalling that they never won an Emmy,” agreed FremantleMedia North America CEO Thom Beers, who also paid tribute to Pilgrim Films & Television’s series Dirty Jobs.

“I’m looking over to my left and there’s Craig Piligian [sat in the crowd],” said Beers. “I have to say, Dirty Jobs – I loved that show. It was creative and it was enigmatic.”

The panel speculated that there may have been a perception that Dirty Jobs or American Idol judge Simon Cowell were considered “too crass” by Academy voters, which may have had an impact on their chances.

There was also reflection on the absurdity of categorizing all of unscripted together, with singing competitions judged alongside blue-chip historical series.

“Reality is such a fast-moving, constantly evolving genre,” said ABC Entertainment Group exec VP of alternative series and late-night programming John Saade. “You can’t necessarily judge what’s happening in one reality show against another.”

“When you realize that there are four Emmys for hairdressing and only two for what we do… I should’ve gone into hairdressing,” Beers quipped, before reflecting on his frustrations in the years when his show Deadliest Catch “lost to an eight-part limited series on PBS… or to something like ‘American Masters,’ which is an anthology.”

That said, the execs also discussed the difference winning an Emmy can make to a production company’s prospects, with the consensus being: not very much.

Magical Elves Productions founding partner Dan Cutforth said that when his indie won an Emmy, the afterglow was short-lived.

“There is a window of time where it definitely helps and definitely makes people more receptive. You just couldn’t believe how attentive people were in meetings,” he joked. “It really didn’t last that long.”

Beers added that for Original Productions, “it was more that people were relieved after all those years of losing. It doesn’t change your business model.”

On the network side, Saade also added that it really didn’t make much of a difference, explaining that when a Jamie Oliver-fronted show won an Emmy, just as the network was considering whether or not to renew the show, it may have added “1% or 2%” to the decision to renew.

Finally, the producers on the panel were asked by Spike TV’s exec VP of original series Sharon Levy, who was moderating the session, what networks could do better, which led to a discussion about notes from commissioning execs.

“If you’ve had a show on the air more than four years: no notes from network execs,” said Beers, while Cutforth added: “I really don’t like when we get notes suggesting we make an element more like how another show does it; it’s a pet peeve of mine.”

Berman added that network execs should keep cool heads when ratings start to decline. “You’ve got to let people do what they do really well,” she said. “As ratings go down, it should not equate that notes go up.”

Beers also offered that when he sends a rough cut to networks, he often preempts their notes by including his own set of notes, laying out exactly what he will be changing going forward.

“When I send a rough cut, I send eight pages of notes saying, here’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.