The Pitch: a gorgeous, insightful reality series worthy of Mad Men

With The Pitch, AMC has a reality series worthy of its scripted television. While it’s not quite a reality TV version of Mad Men, the show offers real-world insight into the process we’ve seen fictionalized on that series, and does so with a similar attention to craft.

Each episode follows two agencies who pitch a campaign or project to a client. Most of the show consists of behind-the-scenes wrangling at each agency as creative staff brainstorm and eventually produce a campaign. It really works because it doesn’t flinch at showing us the good and the bad: We’ve watched everything from conflict over dumb ideas (and wow, are there a lot of bad ideas) to conversations between partners about not talking about something in front of the cameras (oops).

Because of all the focus on process, the series is far less of an advertisement for its agencies and the company they’re pitching, even though attention is a big part of what draws them to participate. But that’s one of the things that makes it stand apart from CBS’ Undercover Boss, which is also produced by Studio Lambert and even had overlap with the companies featured here. That show is dumbed down for network audiences, with the premise neutered by a predictable formula that makes it impossible for the company being featured to look bad.

The Pitch‘s only major stumble is in the last 10 minutes, when we actually see the pitches and the decision. The pitches are, obviously, edited down, but they feel disjointed and misleading, as if the editors are trying to convince us that the losing agency will win and vice-versa. Worse, there’s almost no time devoted to the decision-making, so we’re left without an explanation why the idea that looked crappy to us just won. Yes, AMC puts clips online in which there is slightly more explanation given, but there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be in the show, with the entire pitch online. I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with the final decision, and I wonder how much of that is editing and how much is the actual creative.

But the weak endings don’t make the hour any less enjoyable, because again, it’s about process more than the outcome. We get to see ideas evolve and grow, and some of them are pretty amazing. Not to be forgotten is how stunning the show looks, from establishing shots to just moments of people working. Color pops off the screen, and there’s so much depth in each frame that it feels like it’s in 3D. I wish more networks and producers would bring that level of technical artistry to their work.

It just concluded its eight-episode first season, and ratings were so absurdly low that AMC moved it from Monday nights to a post-Mad Men timeslot, but stuck with the show. (If you missed it, watch season one on iTunes, or catch repeats).

That doesn’t bode well for a second season, but I hope AMC sticks with it. I’d love to see the same agencies and players return for season two, or for a second season to use the same agency for a few episodes–or even the whole season–so we can continue to get to know more about these mad ad people and their work.

The Pitch: A-

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.