More buyers, more opportunities – but also more challenges in the current climate. In anticipation of Realscreen Live, we present the Reality Report, examining the top trends and issues impacting the unscripted production community today across three genres: reality competition, shiny floor and travel. The thread tying these features together is experimentation. More than ever, producers and buyers are venturing into new territory, blending genres and taking risks to cut through and meet an ever-increasing appetite for unscripted.
A proven reality genre, shiny floor — its name derived from the floor of the television studio where it has historically raked in viewers and entertained live audiences — might look somewhat different in the wake of the pandemic and the streaming era.
Long running formats — like NBC’s The Voice or the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing — have served as the foundation for newer iterations of shiny floor. The genre was propelled forward in 2019 with Fox’s The Masked Singer, a mystery singing competition based on the South Korean format King of Mask Singer.
As the unscripted category takes on even more experimental forms, it’s not so easy to predict the next hit, says Michael Kelpie, managing director of London’s Potato (The Chase, Ninja Warrior UK), part of ITV Studios.
“There’s a definite need and an appetite for the shiny floor genre to evolve,” he says “What’s the new smart hybrid? What’s the new combination of genres that is going to put in a fresh twist?”
In the UK, the past year or so has seen the proliferation of game shows — BBC1 and Thames recently announced plans to revive Blankety Blank, for one — and Kelpie expects more innovative versions of those formats to crop up.
“Shiny floor is not going away, for all the doomsayers and predictions that people have been making for the last decade — the impact of streamers and how it’s going to impact live viewing and how it’s going to affect family viewing,” he says. “It’s been a good reminder for broadcasters when they see how successful these kinds of shows have been with the viewing figures that they’ve gotten over the last year.”
THE STREAMING (R)EVOLUTION
Broadcasters aren’t the only ones taking note. Streamers — many finding success in other unscripted categories, namely dating formats and docusoaps — have been testing the waters of shiny floor. HBO Max’s voguing competition Legendary (Scout Productions) and Netflix’s Floor is Lava (Haymaker Media) are two shows that draw from the genre.
SVODs have a “huge appetite” for these shows, Kelpie says, but haven’t quite nailed down the formula to pull them off in the streaming environment.
“Shiny floor traditionally works really well as a weekly show. It’s appointment viewing,” he notes. “The streamers need bingeable shows. They need formats that you could watch hour after hour after hour. They recognize that there’s been an appetite on behalf of their customers for years, but they haven’t yet worked out what the solution is… You’ve got to reinvent the grammar of shiny floor.”
Whether the format lands on a network or streaming service, the creative should be front and center, Eric Schotz, president and CEO of Anvil 1893, producer of CBS’s studio-based Kids Say the Darndest Things reboot, says.
“Streamers are as open to it as networks, but for the streamers, you have to hit a big shot. You need a big swing for them,” he says.
Rob Wade, president of alternative entertainment and specials at Fox Entertainment, has been instrumental in ushering in the next generation of shiny floor TV with shows such as The Masked Singer, I Can See Your Voice and Beat Shazam.
He says he doesn’t see the limitations of the genre on streaming.
“The hardest thing to do is to make television for the broadest possible number of people. Anyone trying to do that is in for a challenge,” he explains. “But I don’t think it’s limited to any particular platform. I think everyone’s got an equal opportunity to score a hit in this space.”
But the number of players entering the fray presents issues. Wade says the surplus of premium platforms is stretching the business and its creators thin.
“You’ve got more than double the amount of buyers for premium content,” he says. “You can see a lot of the pitches are thinking about the streamers in mind… It’s a lot of originality but it tends to be more fragmented genres rather than broad ideas that I think would naturally fit into broadcast.”
The last year handed the unscripted industry an unprecedented set of circumstances. Production delays, coordinating talent, casting amid travel restrictions and keeping crew safe were just a few of the challenges.
For shiny floor specifically, safety concerns around live audiences presented the most difficult obstacle.
“I think people underestimate the importance, in entertainment, of being right in the room, and translating it through the screen to the viewer and the amount of energy and influence performers, or even contestants, take from having audiences there. They heighten the drama and comedy situation,” Wade says.
Anvil 1893′s Schotz — who served as executive producer on the original Kids Say the Darndest Things, which ran from 1998 to 2000 — said the crew brainstormed a number of different solutions for the reboot (pictured below).
“When COVID happened, it made audiences exceedingly difficult and risky,” he says. “We have gone through enough machinations to figure out, how do we get an audience in? Do we need an audience? Can we do it just in the field? And we decided that we wanted to be in the studio because it gives us a sense of home and a place and purpose, which I think is important.”
Now, at Fox, Wade is looking for formats that aren’t entirely reliant on having an audience or large numbers of people on set.
“What we have been looking for are the formats that can be shot relatively quickly,” he says. “It’s unbelievably more simple to shoot shows which have already got a setup. You’re basing it on a point of reference… When you’re trying to make a brand new show, it’s incredibly difficult — exponentially more difficult — to make those, because you’re taking all the challenges of a normal show but then adding to that all the problems with the limitations associated with COVID.”
Despite those limitations, the pandemic created opportunity, too, Potato’s Kelpie says, as scripted productions struggled to get back up and running.
“What happened was that there was lots more opportunity and money available for the networks to greenlight more shows,” he says, adding UK broadcasters are tentatively stepping forward into 2022 with the hope that scripted productions will be back on schedule and delivering. Still, he says the success of shiny floor formats has opened doors for future commissions.
“What the networks have realized is that shiny floor, when done properly, can not only be a cost effective way of delivering programs to the viewers, but can also be a very successful way of hitting the rating highs that they otherwise would only have thought possible through drama,” he says. “There’s been so many more of them, and I think the interesting conundrum the broadcasters will face in 2022 is, how many of them do you keep?”
The pandemic also saw more scripted talent try their hands at unscripted. Actress Tiffany Haddish, host of Kids Say the Darndest Things, is one example. On Fox, actor Jason Biggs signed on to host the game show Cherries Wild.
“We and other producers in the UK have capitalized on that and we’ve broadened our search,” Kelpie says. “That goes hand in hand with a real heightened awareness in the UK at the moment for the need for greater diversity and inclusivity on screen, a better representation of the diversity of our audience.”
On- and off-camera, that bigger pool of talent is something the unscripted screen industry desperately needs in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for decision makers to address racial inequity and a lack of diversity.
“We set out with the intention of making a show that reflects the world as it is today,” Schotz says. “When you commit to that and you live in it, then the genre can evolve and become more diverse and inclusive.”
‘A VERY HEALTHY FUTURE’
Though the past year brought about much turbulence in the unscripted production community, the shiny floor genre isn’t going away anytime soon, Wade says.
“Post-pandemic… we need more shows that are very shiny floor, that allow people to travel and to be put outside and do all the things that we haven’t been able to do for the last year. Long-term, there’s a very healthy future for shiny floor. Short-term, we might see a few more swings that live outside of the studio,” he says.
And while the genre may look different with each new iteration, there remains a comfort level among viewers, Schotz says, and an opportunity for producers and buyers to build on the “predictable unpredictability” of the genre.
“The cliche is true, and it’s why everybody goes to it: Creative dictates everything,” he notes.
“The alternative business has always been tasked with figuring it out… We’re reinventing… How do you upgrade? What’s the 2.0? What’s the 3.0? The alternative side of the business pushes, and I think there’s a huge appetite for that. People want to feel that that exists.”