Summit ’15: Amping up unscripted with Pop, GSN

In one of the Realscreen Summit's signature sessions, execs from U.S. nets Discovery Family Channel, WGN America, Game Show Network and Pop converged to discuss their plans for unscripted programming. (Pictured: WGN America senior VP of unscripted Tom Huffman)
January 30, 2015

In one of the Realscreen Summit’s signature sessions, execs from U.S. nets Discovery Family Channel, WGN America, Game Show Network (GSN) and Pop converged to discuss their plans for upping their unscripted programming.

Moderated by realscreen’s associate and online editor Adam Benzine, ‘Amping Up Unscripted’ featured Discovery Family Channel’s VP of production and development Sarah Davies, WGN America and Tribune Studios’ senior VP of unscripted Tom Huffman (pictured above), GSN’s exec VP of programming and development Amy Introcaso-Davis, and Pop’s president of entertainment and media Brad Schwartz.

Below you will find each net’s plan of action going forward, the types of programming they’re looking to commission, and the genres they’re steering clear of:


Panelist: Sarah Davies, VP of production and development

Network’s plan for unscripted: Discovery Family Channel is the rebranded version of Discovery’s former animation-oriented cable channel The Hub, and was launched in October 2014. “It’s still very much open to children during the day, but at 5 p.m. it switches to an adult-facing channel,” said Davies.

“We’re not going to do cartoons with children-facing programs, we’re definitely going to do adult-facing, co-viewing. If the kids watch, too, that’s great, but it’s not aimed to bring in the children.” The exec pointed out that there will likely be a “fringe period” between the children and adult-oriented programming, so she is looking for “cost-effective” shows that can cover that one- to two-hour period with adult-focused programs.

Genres that are working: pet shows (dogs, in particular).

Genres to steer clear of: crime, paranormal, cryptozoology, nothing overly adrenalized. “We want to be true to the idea of a core family brand,” explained the exec. “We don’t want parents lunging for the remote control because it’s something their kids shouldn’t be watching.”

What she’s looking for: Funny and light-hearted programming and silly, crazy ideas. There’s also an interest in one-offs. Davies urges producers to send along sizzle reels or any tape they may have. She says she is also open to seeing talent via Skype, and receiving pitches over email. “No one needs to have an agent,” said Davies.

Budget: It depends on the project, but the net is open to copros.

OwnershipFlexible, but the goal is to own content outright.


Panelist: Tom Huffman, senior VP of unscripted

Network’s plan for unscripted: “It’s first and foremost a scripted network so our shows have got to be bold explorations into new worlds,” said Huffman, following a sizzle reel for the net’s forthcoming series Outlaw Country - one of two original unscripted series on the air thus far.

Genres that are working: Niches. “With Wrestling with Death, we liked it because it was bold, but we also saw that it got us into the wrestling community. Just like [the scripted series] Salem got us into a very specific audience, we’re hoping it’ll get us into a wrestling audience.”

Despite the title, Huffman says the show skews female, though most of WGN America’s series are balanced between male and female audiences. The goal, he says, is to follow the steps A&E took in programming scripted and unscripted companion shows. “They were standing side-by-side with one another, but they weren’t going for the same audience, and that’s kind of how it works with our network as well.”

Genres to steer clear of: Paranormal.

How much unscripted to expect on the net: Two to four series this year; next year, four to six. “Hopefully more and more after that,” said Huffman.

What he’s looking for: Docu-soaps, transformational shows (“Our version of House,” explains Huffman). A hosted show.

Pitching details: The company prefers to hear from established prodcos.

Budget: Depends on the project and shooting periods, but projects that take longer will be in the higher range.

Ownership: Required


Panelist: Amy Introcaso-Davis, exec VP of programming and development

Network’s plan for unscripted: “Our bosses have let us play a lot in the field,” said the exec. “It would be great to say everything we’ve done is a hit but the truth of the matter is there’s been some dogs in there.

“They’ve given us a fair amount to produce and figure out exactly what’s going to hit the sweet spot for the new GSN. It’s not your grandmother’s GSN anymore.” Introcaso-Davis says body competition series Skin Wars opened the door for arts competitions at the net.

Genres that are working: The exec points out that The Chase has a character at the center of the game show, which is what attracted the net.

Genres to steer clear of: Food (“There are too many people who are more successful at it,” explains Introcaso-Davis.) Subcultures and sub-genres of competitions, like Skin Wars.

How much of the net will be new game show formats: 10 to 12 new shows in the next year. “Most of our older, acquired stuff is during the day and the newer stuff is at night,” said the exec.

What she’s looking for: Depends on the scheduling needs of GSN, but formats are very important. No unsolicited pitches: instead, have reps reach out to execs such as Barry Nugent, head of talent development and casting for the net, or Jennifer Freeman, VP of programming and development.

Budget: Depends on what the net thinks the show will be.

Ownership: There are exceptions, but the net prefers to own.


Panelist: Brad Schwartz, president of entertainment and media

Network’s plan for unscripted: Pop is the former TV Guide Network (TVGN), which was rebranded about two weeks ago. “TVGN was always known for being in that pop culture space and we made the decision that we were going to be in that pop culture space but we’re going to do it differently than everybody else,” said Schwartz.

The channel aims to focus on the spirit of being a fan. “There are hit shows on TV like Talking Dead that do nothing but talk about another show, and if you’re a fan of Scandal you call yourself a gladiator. People are needing their fandoms.”

Genres that are working: Something with a distinct place in pop culture, distinct positioning, a fun and optimistic spirit and likeable characters.

How much unscripted to expect on the net: 400 hours of original programming this year. “Take out eight hours and the rest will be unscripted,” said Schwartz.

What he’s looking for: Fan followings that are rooted in pop culture. Pitch it directly but make sure it comes through somebody, advises Schwartz. The exec adds that he is able to commission eight reality series this year: “We’re spending a little bit of money on a lot of projects.”

Budget: Roughly $200,000 to $300,000 an episode.

Ownership: Pop needs to have ownership.

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