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How fear has infected the reality TV industry

How fear has infected the reality TV industry
A metaphor for the state of reality TV right now.

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, and online today, is a feature story I wrote about the state of reality television this fall: Why there is less reality TV on television this fall.

As the title suggests, the story explores why there’s less reality television on prime-time broadcast television this fall—a trend over the past few years—and also what’s ailing the genre.

It’s near-universal that people in reality TV feel like there’s something wrong, but what exactly is wrong isn’t openly discussed.

I reported the story by talking to more than a dozen people who work in the unscripted television industry, from those who work behind-the-scenes on set all the way up to network executives.

Several talked to me on the record; others contributed on-background information.

Of those who were quoted, a few quotes didn’t make it into the piece because of length, and I wanted to share them here.

Tim Duffy, co-founder of Ugly Brother Studios and former Spike executive, on problems between producers and executives:

It becomes a problem “when you put handcuffs on the creatives, when you require them to only play in this very small space, even though you loved the idea when you bought it, and you loved the producers when you bought it from them.

If you don’t allow the idea to evolve, if you don’t allow the producers to water the seeds of the idea so that it can become what it needs to become, then you’re constricting the creative process, and ultimately the viewing audience says: ‘You’re derivative and I don’t like what you’re presenting to me.’”

Marjorie Kaplan, Discovery Networks International’s president of content and former Animal Planet general manager, on the relationship between producers and network executives:

“If you are looking for creator-driven content, if you are looking for things that have a spark of something different, the degree to which the creative person has the freedom to really own it makes that more possible.

That doesn’t mean the network can’t provide huge value. One of the things that happens when you’re a creator is that you’re close to the material and know the people so well. What you don’t have is the capacity to see it for the first time.

I think the best relationship with the network is when the network executive can bring that point of view and can help see things that it’s just not possible to see any longer because you’re so close. That can be a great partnership.”

Rob Mills, ABC’s VP of alternative television, on whether there will be another network reality hit:

“I remember when Survivor came on, and every Thursday morning, everybody talked about it. And that’s reality at its best.

I do think we’re going to have [another game-changing hit]. It certainly is harder. It’s not helped by the fact by a lot of these shows haven’t gone away.

They’re such strong formats and you reboot them every season with a new cast, so that makes it really, really difficult for something new to cut through. But it is out there.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how itโ€™s made and what it means.

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