Create, Pitch, Sell and Make Reality Television and Documentary series by knowing five magic words. Knowing and using these five words makes you look like a pro, and makes us want to work with you.You can listen to the episode here:
This Episode: Create, Pitch, Sell, Make Reality TV Using Five Magic Words – Transcript
Announcer: Welcome to Producing Unscripted with Joke and Biagio.
Angry Man: Is this some kind of joke?
Confused Woman: Biagee-who?
Announcer: In this episode…
Biagio: It’s Episode Five. Today, sound smart when pitching unscripted television by using five magic words. Let me tell you what they mean and why they’re so important. The first question Joke’s going to ask if you’re pitching us a TV project. And I’m experiencing a little separation anxiety. I hope I can make it through this episode.
Reality TV Wreck Ahead
Biagio: Alright, hey everybody thanks for joining us for Episode Five of Producing Unscripted. She’s Joke.
Joke: And he’s Biagio.
Biagio: We make unscripted film and television and want to help you do the same, hopefully by teaming up with us.
Well, I have to admit something. I am getting ready to experience some separation anxiety because me and Joke have a lot of projects going on right now and Joke is going to go on the first part of a road-trip without me. Aren’t you honey?
Joke: I am. I’m going to miss you babe.
Biagio: I’m going to miss you. This is horrible. This is what happens when you have a successful company and you’re working with your wife.
At first it’s fantastic because you’re like, “We get to be together 24 hours a day!” and then you have so many shows going on that you have to divide and conquer and oh my gosh, listen; I am better when Joke is around. I will just say it. I am not ashamed to say that she has made me a better man. Whew! There, I said it.
Joke: Aww. We’ll be fine babe. You’re coming out a couple days later.
Biagio: I am. It’s only for a few days. I shouldn’t complain.
Reality Television: Hands-On Producing
BiagioYou know, me and Joke are still very hands-on in a lot of these pilots and we’re going to be running around with a couple of cameras, aren’t we honey?
Joke: Yup. It’s going to be fine.
Biagio: I love shooting and editing. That’s why we do this!
Biagio: Hopefully, it’s why you want to do it too.
Cheerful Woman: Musical break!
Unscripted Film & TV: Sound Like a Pro
Biagio: Now, if you listened to the first episodes, we’ve been laying out a little bit at a time things you need to know to team up with us.
Well today, we’re going to give you five incredibly powerful words that will number one, make you sound like you know what you’re talking about, when you’re pitching reality TV shows and documentary series.
And number two, if you listen to what we have to say and you understand how to use the words, you will know what you’re talking about.
So, Joke, without further ado, what are these Five Magic Words that we’ve been hitting at for several episodes?
Biagio: Ooh, great fancy words.
Joke: The reason these five words are important is because you’ll come in with a world or character and you’ll say, “Oh! I have this fantastic idea!” and the very first question coming out of my mouth will be, “Is this a Self-contained or an Arced show?” and the second question will be, “Format or Docu?” and if you do not know the answers to that, I’ll know that you do not have a show concept.
Biagio: And what if they say Hybrid?
Joke: Huh! Well, they still didn’t answer the first question.
Biagio: This is true.
Joke: Okay. So let’s start with the first question, Self-contained or Arced?
Reality TV Structure: Self-Contained or Arced?
If you think about, “The Bachelor” that is an Arced show, meaning that every episode continues based on the last one and that by the end of the season, it’s leading to something. So most of the competition elimination shows are Arced shows. They are the ones like “Survivor”, “Amazing Race”, “Big Brother”
Joke: “Scream Queens.” In every episode, someone gets eliminated where you get a mini-arc per episode but still leading up to the big one at the end.
Arced shows are mostly broadcast network shows. NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX. They want you to tune in every week. That’s what their bread and butter is. They want you to keep coming back.
A Self-contained show is exactly that. The entire show is contained to one episode. So when you are laying around the house on a Saturday afternoon and you see those marathons of episodes, if you can air them out of order, it’s a Self-contained show.
Are you still with me here?
Biagio: Right. Give us an example of a self-contained show.
Joke: “Undercover Boss”, which is a CBS show is also Self-contained. But most Self-contained shows live on cable. They very much rely on the audience member just to tune-in. They may not watch every episode and they may not watch them in order.
So, while some self-contained shows have arced storylines; for example, if you follow a season of The Kardashians, you will see relationships progress or stories unfold over the course of a season.
But most of those episodes are satisfactory just in and of itself. There is a problem that presents itself in the beginning of an episode, they try to solve it and there’s some kind of resolution towards the end.
So, those are Self-contained episodes.
If you are coming up with a multi-million dollar show an episode, you better come up with a way that it’s arced, because there’s very few people who will pay for a very, very expensive self-contained episode.
So again to recap, arced shows, you can’t air them out of order. They really kind of go from beginning to end. Think elimination competitions.
Self-contained shows, beginning to end, I can watch one episode and I get it. I can air them out of order and it’s good to go.
Excited Woman: I like totally feel myself getting smarter right now. Booyah!
Reality Television Type: Format, Docu, or Hybrid?
Joke: So the other three words, is it a Format? Is it a Docu, or is it a Hybrid?
Biagio: Let’s break it down. What is a Format?
Joke: A Format relies on tent-pole moments. It means every episode, certain things will happen.
So for example, “Undercover Boss” is a Format. The boss goes undercover, he has to do certain tasks, he comes to some kind of realization, he meets back-up with some of the employees he was with and rewards them or comes to some kind of resolution.
Obviously, “The Bachelor” is a Format show. Every episode starts with a few dates and then they all culminate into a rose ceremony.
“Survivor”, you have the immunity challenge and the rewards challenges and leading up to tribal council.
So if there are certain things that are absolutely going to happen every episode, it is a format show. True format shows are the ones where there isn’t even a regular cast.
You can swap out the cast. So, the “Undercover Boss” every episode is with a new company owner, its new company employees. That is a true format. You could sell it around the world, the people can come in and out of it, it is a format show.
Reality TV Formats: Both Self-Contained and Arced
Biagio: And by the way, another thing that I want to point out is that a format show can be either self-contained or arced. Right, Joke?
Joke: “Undercover Boss” is a self-contained format. “Survivor” is an arced format.
Biagio: So these words are words that you’re going to need to mix together to make us understand what kind of show you’re pitching to us. We’re going to keep going here.
It sure might not be as good, they found really good talent to host those shows but yet, the format of it could be sold all around the world and they could put in their crazy guys or you know…
Biagio: They could put in their Asian Mike Rowe or their Singaporean Mike Rowe. Singaporean, is that a nationality or did I just make that up?
Joke: I’m not sure if that’s a word but we can go with it.
Biagio: All right. Anyway, you get the point.
Joke: So that’s format.
Unscripted Television: Different Types of Docu
Joke: Docu comes obviously from the word documentary. Docu-series, there’s docu-drama, there’s docu-comedy and that all relies on the characters.
Most docus you can’t sell overseas and have them recast it because the key to success of that series is your cast. “Duck Dynasty” is a docu. It’s a docu-sitcom. It’s very funny. But it’s a docu.
If you look at “The Kardashians, it’s a docu; lives on its characters. There’s not a lot of docus in broadcast television.
Biagio: They’ve tried them but there haven’t been a whole lot that have really stuck.
Joke: CW is playing around with a few, like “Breaking Pointe” which is a Ballet docu but most docus live in cable. It’s where the audience for those shows is. They get to invest a little more in to characters.
And also, cable networks can give a show a little bit more time to find an audience, where big networks can’t. And so, if you don’t come up with a really big hook right off the bat, which most docus don’t, you need some time to grow it.
Biagio: So that brings us to…
The Reality TV Workhorse: Hybrid
Joke: So that brings us to the one that most shows fall in to, which is a hybrid. You find a hybrid because it has these amazing characters and you have the docu stuff but it has these formattable elements.
“Millionaire Matchmaker” is a format but because of the character of Patty being so strong, it’s really more of a Hybrid because you’ll follow some of her own personal life drama and then get back to the format of the week which is: she’s hooking up certain millionaires, finding dates for them and hopefully making a match.
So, most shows fall somewhere in the middle. I think that comes from the fact that formats are very reliable for an audience.
Comfort Food for the Audience
There’s a reason “Law and Order” has been running for so many years. We like our tent-pole moments. We like knowing when we turn on the television, are we in the first half of the episode or the last half of the episode?
There is something about Docu series that are a little harder and they require more from the audience in terms of truly just investing in them.
And so the Hybrid, which is what most shows end up falling in to, is really great because you have those repeatable format elements that keep coming back; that keeps an audience coming back but it really is relying on these great characters.
Biagio: Our own show, “Caged” was a Hybrid show and let me talk about why. We had great characters, first of all. I mean as far as the doc part goes, “Sports illustrated” called us “The Real Life Friday Night Lights”. That’s all because of the kids. It was those kids. Those kids were real. They were amazing. You were invested in their stories.
However, every single week had a format to it. Right, Joke?
Joke: Every week, every episode, we led up to a fight. So you always had your A-story line of someone who is going to have to fight at that episode.
And so, you could follow their stories. So that is something that’s always there. And then the relationship sagas which is true docu were weaved in and out throughout those episodes.
So honestly, could you watch them out of order? Possibly, but not too much. Therefore, it’s not really a Format.
You really did kind of want to get invested in the characters in the Docu of it but we did add a Format element in terms of every episode, you would have the fight of the week.
I mean, sometimes it was two fights of week but you’d have at least that fight-of-the-week storyline to follow.
Biagio: I loved making that show.
Joke: It’s a great show.
Biagio: Probably our favorite show we ever made, right?
Joke: Until this point.
Biagio: Until this point. I mean, it was…
Joke: I hope that’s not going to be it forever.
Biagio: No, no, no! I mean until this point. It was amazing. Those kids were amazing. The stories were amazing.
And that’s an example of MTV letting us go out and shoot a doc for like nine months because we just filmed and filmed and filmed. How many thousands of hours did we have again?
Joke: I don’t know but we had about 600 scenes shot and we ended up only airing about, I think between 100 and 120.
Biagio: We left more good scenes on the floor than a lot of shows ever have in the first place. I was just — and that was completely because of those kids; the town of Minden, Louisiana who let us in to film.
Joke: And Shreveport.
Biagio: And Shreveport. I’m getting nostalgic now. I miss those kids. But it was a wonderful experience to get to shoot that and its experiences like that, that make us want to work in Unscripted.
Other Reality TV and Doc Series Examples
Joke: Right. Well looking at some of the other shows we’ve done, Rhett and Link’s “Commercial Kings” was much more of a Format.
It’s more in the “MythBusters” kind, where you have a Format with really strong characters. You can absolutely air those out of order. If we look at…
Biagio: “Scream Queens”
Joke: “Scream Queens”, it is 100 percent an Arced Format. You don’t want to air those out of order because then, all of a sudden you would go from there’s six girls left, to there’s two girls left, to there’s eight girls left, to there’s one girl?
But you know, so it doesn’t really make sense. So that’s an Arced Format. “Commercial Kings” was Self-contained.
Biagio: “Foody Call” was Self-contained. Every episode, our host would come in, help some guy makeover his place, makeover his cooking skills, have a romantic date.
Biagio: Format, cast doesn’t matter. You can swap out the hosts. Totally Format.
What You Should Do Next
Joke: So what we’re looking for right now from you guys is, one, start looking at television and start figuring out the homework I gave you by watching TV.
So now really look at those shows and go, “Oh, is this Arced or Self-contained? Is this Format, Docu or Hybrid?”
If you know those five words and when you pitch us a show idea, you already can tell us where in the TV landscape you see this fitting? You’re already half of the way there.
Instantly Stand Out from the Crowd
Biagio: And by the way, most people will never pitch to us that way. That’s why I want to give you these tools. It makes it so much easier for us to know where you’re coming from and for us to help you get the show on television.
Okay. If you’ve been listening to all of our episodes, you now know Who We Are, How to Submit Your Show Concepts to Us, What It Takes to Make Yourself Valuable to A Pitch, The Steps to Develop a Show without Going Broke and The Five Magic Words of Pitching Reality TV.
Next time, we’re going to give you Secrets of Spotting Great Characters for Reality TV.
How to know if an everyday person will make a good TV show.
Where to look and what to do when you find someone you think is Unscripted Television gold.
Don’t miss it! So please be sure to subscribe at iTunes. It’s really easy.
Just go to producingunscripted.com/itunes and if you could leave us a comment and a rating, it would mean the world to us and let us know you’d like us to make some more of these.
So, until next time.
Joke: Thank you so much!
Announcer: Producing Unscripted with Joke and Biagio.
Want to Make some TV Together?
You know the five magic words…now put them to use!
Read our in-depth page about how to pitch us a show. It also talks about what it’s really like to work in our business, the unscripted TV and film industry.