Summit ’20: Digging into development

NEW ORLEANS – Leading industry producers and network executives offered insight into where the non-scripted marketplace is headed during a panel discussion on the opening day of the 22nd edition of the Realscreen ...
January 28, 2020

NEW ORLEANS – Leading industry producers and network executives offered insight into where the non-scripted marketplace is headed during a panel discussion on the opening day of the 22nd edition of the Realscreen Summit in New Orleans on Monday afternoon (Jan. 27).

Moderated by Joe Livecchi, CEO of full-service media company Noble Savages, the “Development: What’s Hot, What’s Not” panel discussed the untapped development areas for the year ahead, the genres that have cooled and how fledgling producers can gain access to top-level network executives for their pitch.

Development executives at production outfits need to be one step ahead of the cultural zeitgeist in order to tap into the next possible television trend. And while the response from network executives tends to ebb and flow with changing network mandates and regime changes, Entertainment One’s Tara Long noted that low cost, high volume and repeatable formats in the relationship genre will continue to trend upward for the remainder of 2020 and leading into 2021.

“It’s a genre that’s already tapped into but it’s not going anywhere,” said Long, president of global unscripted television at eOne. “We have a lot of networks coming to us for different ways into relationships, so it’s reinventing the wheel and trying to keep it fresh and new. You’re always going to have a big market for those shows.

“But communication is key,” she added. “You have to know the network brand and identity of [each network], and they can shift a little bit… Sometimes networks will say ‘Bring me something you think will never be right for us or is totally opposite,’ and if it’s a good piece of talent or a great idea, they’ll make it fit their network.”

Developing content that will break through the fragmented marketplace, however, is also about timing and being tuned in to what’s happening in pop culture and the broader world around us.

With the emergence of new networks and platforms – including Apple TV+, HBO Max, Disney+, Quibi – standing out is not only incredibly important for the production studios and their programming, but also for the executives at those networks.

“When they take a risk on a new program, it’s really got to break through,” explained Wes Dening, EVP of development and programming at Eureka Productions. “Being distinctive, that’s so important.”

For network executives such as Gena McCarthy, EVP and head of unscripted programming at Lifetime & head of programming at FYI, and Jason Sarlanis, SVP of development at TLC, a great title and a professionally done sizzle for your program can exponentially increase the likelihood of securing a sale in the room.

“I’m still a sucker for a great title – you can have me at hello when you have the right title,” said A+E Network’s McCarthy. “It’s the genesis of about 50% for the most successful shows I’ve done in my career.”

“Sometimes you have a unique title and you feel it’s your responsibility to make the creative as good as the title. You feel like you’ve failed if you haven’t achieved that title,” added Sarlanis.

For independent producers struggling to gain face-time with network executives to even hear a pitch about their big idea and its great title, eOne’s Long suggests securing a partnership with a production company that has existing programs on air in the genre you’re interested in.

“Reach out to someone in their development team and start that relationship,” she explained. “By working with them, you’ll cultivate your own relationship with the buyers. Any good producer will be collaborative when you bring them a good pitch – they want to work with you and have you in as part of the process. It’s definitely a team business to get shows made.”

“And that gives us a sense of security knowing that great idea is being incubated in a production company we have a relationship with,” stated Sarlanis. “From a pure production management standpoint, we know the train will be on the right tracks.

“We go into every pitch meeting and before you even play that tape, we’re hoping that this is going to be the one. It’s an optimistic point of view. We’re there to help you – we want this to work because it’ll help make our network a highly rated success.”

(Photo: Rahoul Ghose)

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