Small Companies, Big Ideas: Russ McCarroll returns to production via Pocket Square

After just over a year of operating under the radar, two-time Emmy-winning producer Russ McCarroll, formerly an executive of A+E Networks and Discovery, Inc., has officially launched his New York-based, full-service production ...
February 16, 2021

After just over a year of operating under the radar, two-time Emmy-winning producer Russ McCarroll, formerly an executive of A+E Networks and Discovery, Inc., has officially launched his New York-based, full-service production outfit Pocket Square Productions.

The indie studio was founded in November 2019, quietly opening its doors with a soft launch just prior to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic, and specializes in the creation of premium unscripted and documentary content.

Within its first year of service, McCarroll (pictured) and Pocket Square rebooted the long-running A&E format Sell This House for sister network FYI. The home renovation series was recently renewed for a sophomore season run, with production slated to resume later this month. In addition, McCarroll has also produced and launched The Fieldhouse on the forthcoming Magnolia Network, which recently premiered on Discovery+.

Pocket Square additionally has several projects currently in development and production with multiple platforms.

“We’ve also done about four paid development projects that we’re working on: one in the follow doc space, another in the competition space and another format. There’s also another series that hasn’t been announced yet; that’s just getting into pre-production right now,” said McCarroll, CEO of Pocket Square Productions, in a statement. “We’re also focusing a lot on development and putting together some concepts that are across a wide variety of different types of programming.”

McCarroll’s career began in sports television where he worked with major North American sports leagues, including the NHL, NBA and MLB. Later, he would spend four years with NBC News at the Today Show before joining History Channel as an executive producer.

During his nine-year tenure at the A+E Networks channel, McCarroll oversaw unscripted development and production while also working on some of its scripted programming. His unscripted production credits include AlonePawn StarsMountain MenThe Men Who Built AmericaTop Gear USA and Sons of Liberty.

Most recently, McCarroll served as SVP of development and production at Discovery Channel over a two-year period. There, he managed East Coast production and development of Discovery’s unscripted programming slate on all development and series. Additionally, he oversaw all U.S. production and development originating from Discovery’s London office until his exit in September 2019.

“When I began thinking about what I wanted to do next, it was clear that creating quality content and having the ability to work on projects across different genres was most important,” he tells Realscreen. “I decided to quietly start creating projects and when some of them started to get interest from buyers, I formed Pocket Square. I feel very good about what we have accomplished in the first year and I’m excited for what we have in the pipeline.”

Pocket Square Productions is represented by United Talent Agency.

Realscreen spoke to McCarroll to discuss Pocket Square’s ambitions and the challenges inherent in leading and launching a boutique firm during a pandemic.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You exited from Discovery to launch Pocket Square Productions in November 2019 with what you could possibly call a “soft launch”. Can you tell me why you decided now was the time to announce your presence? 

I wanted to start slowly and make sure that I was really focused in making sure that the first show that I did was creatively what I wanted it to be – I was spending a lot of time on that one specific series, and not really focused on growing the business to start with so much.

So many people try to launch something new but they try to do 10 things simultaneously, and a lot of things fall through the cracks. I really wanted to focus on one thing at a time in the beginning. That’s why I was a little bit quiet about getting started. Obviously, the global pandemic hit a few months after I launched, and that just seemed like a weird time to really be doing too much in the way of pushing yourself; it seemed like no one really knew what the world was going to be there for a few months. It seemed like a good idea to just keep focused on Sell This House, which is the first project I was able to sell.

To sell one series is great, and to be able to get a couple of other ones up and running in the first year seems like a success.

What else has Pocket Square been up to for the past two years?

One of the great luxuries of having been a producer and then ending up on the network side for a long time is you create a lot of relationships on the network side. Some of the folks I had the pleasure of working with at A+E Networks were trying to figure out a way to do a home renovation show, and do it in an interesting, new modern way. In talking with those guys, I put together a format for Sell This House. They really liked it, so we did 10 hours of that over 20 episodes, which we started right before COVID hit, and then we had to shut down for a while.

Then creating all the protocols from scratch, and getting that up and running again in July was a pretty daunting task that took a lot of focus. In addition to that, I’d started talking to the folks over at Magnolia Network as they were getting started with what they were doing, and was able to find a show with those guys called Fieldhouse that has launched on Discovery+.

What can you tell us about transitioning back to the producer side after a period as a buyer?

Originally when I went over to the network side, I thought I was going to be there for two years. I thought, ‘This is going to be great. I’m going to learn what it’s like to be on the buyer side, I’m going to learn all the tricks of the trade. I’m going to come back to producing, and I’ll know exactly what to pitch everybody.’ Then in a blink of an eye, 10-12 years went by. Finally, when I did leave, I sat down and really talked to my wife about what I wanted to do with the rest of my career.

I had forgotten that my whole intention of going over to that side was to see how it worked, and to get a better sense of what networks did and how they did it. It really became clear that getting back to being able to work on creative across multiple genres was something that I was interested in. I wanted to make sure that the ones that I did at the beginning, I really was able to focus on and make sure that we got them right because the hardest thing to do is get a renewal – that seems to be the biggest challenge for every producer.

What is Pocket Square’s strategy when it comes to breaking through the clutter and succeeding in such a competitive marketplace?

One thing that’s been super refreshing being back on this side, is realizing that the same thing that was important when I was a producer before is the thing that’s important now: it’s about the content. In some ways, it’s great to be on this side now because there are more distributors, there’s more content being bought than there’s ever been before. The thing that really sets it apart more than anything is great stories.

The great thing about Sell This House is that it came along at a time when the real estate market has gone upside down. Urban settings are not doing well, whereas suburban settings are having like this crazy time and people are looking at houses in a different way. That’s really something we leaned into with the show — the people that are seeing the homes are seeing them online, they’re not seeing them in person. Being able to communicate what’s happening in the world has really been something we’ve leaned into.

How has the enduring COVID-19 pandemic affected the long-term outlook for your business as we look ahead to 2021?

It’s a little bit of a difficult question to answer, because no one knows when the end is. I think we’re all making plans with contingencies at this point — I certainly am.

This felt like a good time to start talking about the company a little bit in the sense that, it feels like we’re coming out of things, and it feels like it’s going to be an opportunity to grow and expand on some of the things we’ve done in the last year. But I’m also being mindful that you never know if one of these other strands of COVID is going to be even worse than the first one.

It’s a little of trying to fight the impulse to scale really quickly, and instead making sure you’re nimble and staying the course. But the good thing [is that] on the non-fiction side, buyers have continued to buy, people are continuing to put new product out there in a different way. It’s been one advantage that we’ve had and hopefully, now as we get out of it, that increased buying cycle will just grow even bigger.

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