From revitalized and rebooted game shows to crime show sprees across networks, the business of unscripted entertainment received a thorough examination at Realscreen West in Santa Monica last week.
Just under 1,020 delegates converged on the Fairmont Miramar for the eighth edition of the conference, held from June 8-10 and featuring the annual Realscreen Awards, held on June 9.
During the keynote conversation that kicked off the conference, NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy explained that shifts in viewing habits are ushering in changes that all broadcast nets need to react to, and have prompted the network to more aggressively invest in content and owning IP that can be shopped globally.
“Things are changing very rapidly and just being – bluntly – the world’s healthiest dinosaur is not going to be enough for my future work family,” Telegdy told delegates. “Content has the potential to be a very, very good bet for our company.”
To that end, news was revealed during the keynote that Telegdy would be heading up the newly formed Alternative and Reality Group at the Peacock, and that Meredith Ahr would be heading its new in-house production unit for unscripted, Universal Television Alternative Studios.
Another keynote conversation featured Nigel Lythgoe, co-creator and exec producer of So You Think You Can Dance and EP for several seasons of American Idol, who detailed lessons learned over the course of his career as a producer, choreographer and dancer.
“I would love to see a Broadway channel,” he said to applause from delegates. “You see the success of their shows, their events… There’s an awful lot [to feature] about Broadway; the musicals and the movies about them too. There’s a really good channel there that’s well defined and you know exactly what you get.”
Execs from the digital and SVOD space, meanwhile, joined moderator Bruce David Klein from Atlas Media Corp for “Full Stream Ahead,” in which opportunities and challenges for unscripted producers in the streaming space were examined.
“We are looking at budgets comparable to cable TV in a lot of cases and just trying figure out how we do that so the programming doesn’t feel like YouTube is making TV shows,” offered YouTube Originals head of comedy and unscripted Ben Relles. “We want to keep it participatory and use 360-degree and keep it interactive and organic so it feels like it should have a home on YouTube.”
One of the event’s more popular, standing-room-only sessions dove into “The Deal on Development,” moderated by John Ford, GM for the Nonfiction Producers Association, and featuring several exec producers and even a brave network representative, squaring off on the twists and turns that the development process has undertaken as of late.
“I do remember when you could walk into a room with a sizzle tape and sell from that, but what I’ve been seeing from the last couple of years is you’ll walk in with a piece of talent and with a tape, and still get an offer for paper development, casting, presentation, piloting and then series, and now [you're] looking 18 months out,” explained Gil Goldschein, chairman and CEO of Bunim/Murray Productions.
Another packed session delved into “Formats: What’s Working Where, and Why?” Moderated by PactUS president David Lyle, the panel brought together various producers and distributors of international formats to analyze the trends impacting the format business, while also highlighting some of the panelists’ more recent offerings.
When remarking on how formats can hit their stride after a few versions have aired internationally, Red Arrow Entertainment Group chief creative officer Michael Schmidt said: “”We tweak the hook and we tweak the tonality to find it. It’s not about the first launch – it’s the first three launches.”
The annual Realscreen Awards, deftly hosted by The Amazing Race‘s Phil Keoghan, saw Brett Morgen’s doc Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, CNN and Zero Point Zero’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, and Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch from Original Productions take multiple cubes each, while I Am Cait star and EP Caitlyn Jenner and ITV America CEO Brent Montgomery were inducted into the Realscreen Awards Hall of Fame. NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy was also inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier in the week.
Outside of the event, a host of parties welcomed those who made the trip into Santa Monica for the conference, including a soiree to both honor Original Productions founder and exec producer Thom Beers and raise money for the Los Angeles-area Saban Community Clinic.
The “Let’s Get Real” event raised over US$130,000 for the cause, and Beers took the opportunity to tell delegates a little bit more about his new prodco, BoBCat, founded with former Original colleague Jeff Conroy and digital media exec Sarah Bernard – news which was exclusively revealed by realscreen earlier that day.
(Phil Keoghan, Paul Telegdy and Nigel Lythgoe photos by Nelson Blanton)