Reality TV worlds or documentary locations: what makes them worthy of a TV show? They still need to be populated with great reality TV characters. However, sometimes, those characters are not enough to sell a reality television show. That’s when the show’s world or setting becomes hugely important.Listen to the podcast episode here:
Discover Great Reality TV Worlds 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 7. Think you found a great world for a reality TV show or documentary series? We’ll give you four ways to be sure. Why you should get to know us even if you don’t have a show to pitch right now. As owners of the company, how hands on do the two of us get when making TV shows? And if you’re going to have a child, should you test market their name first?
Swimming in Reality TV Waters and Worlds
Biagio: All right, everybody, welcome to Episode 7 of Producing Unscripted. She’s Joke.
Joke: He’s Biagio.
Biagio: We’re married. We make unscripted film and television and want to help you do the same, hopefully, by teaming up with us.
And I tell you what, we are pretty busy right now, aren’t we Joke? Your head’s kind of spinning.
Joke: Yeah. It’s all kind of swimming in there. Just too many projects kind of fusing together.
Biagio: There’s a lot of projects happening right now. But I’m so excited. As you know, a few episodes back, I talked about us having to divide and conquer. Well, we’re fortunate that we’re going to get to go out and shoot a little pilot together, aren’t we, honey?
Joke: Yeah. I’m excited. This week, we’re going to go and we have a little crew. But we’re both going to have to run second and third cameras. So it’ll be fun.
Biagio: I love running around, shooting and editing stuff. I’ll be sitting in on post a little bit on this one. Obviously, these days I don’t have time to, you know, edit entire pilots top to bottom because we have so many projects going on.
Hands-On Producing: Crucial for Unscripted Television
But I am still very hands-on in post. I’ll hop in and I’ll do polishes. Sometimes I’ll take scenes. And usually on a pilot, I’ll actually sit in and do the final polish myself.
And you know the reason is because budgets are tight and we like to put as much on the screen as we can, which is part of the reason that we like to find other hands-on producers to work with and pitch us stuff.
Joke: Absolutely. I think anybody who, you know, has passion about a story and can also add in terms of shooting or editing, love them.
Biagio: Yeah, whatever filmmaking skill it is that you have—like, you’re extra valuable when you pitch a show if you can work on it.
So you know if you have great filmmaking skills and you have a great attitude, you need to be pitching to us.
It’s that simple.
That’s why we’re doing these podcasts.
You’re the kind of person we want to work with.
Because even if you don’t have a show to pitch right now, if you are a terrific shooter, if you’re a great editor, if you are an awesome producer; I want to know about you. You know, sign up, write us an email, get to know us a little bit.
Let us know you’re out there. Maybe you don’t have a show for us right now; maybe we’ll hire you on one of our other shows. We’re always looking for great people. And to me someone who’s great in this industry is someone who knows how to make stuff.
If you’re one of those people who goes out and you shoot and you edit your own stuff, please get to know us.
Great Reality Television Worlds are Valuable – and Might be In Your Backyard
Joke: One of the ways we said that you can make yourself valuable to a project was to find a very unique world.
So today we want to talk about what that means, how you can define such a world.
And again, that world may already be around you so let us help identify those worlds around you that could potentially be a great show.
Sometimes Reality TV Worlds are Bigger than Characters
Biagio: Yeah. Listen, characters are always important. Characters, characters, characters. But sometimes, it really is the world of the show that is the star. It really is the world of the show that makes those characters work. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
You know, some examples of shows where worlds are bigger than the characters themselves, I think one example is Hillbilly Handfishin’.
You know, it’s a great show. It’s a fun show. But if you look at the two main guys, the stars of that show, do they really have enough going on in their personal lives to carry a docu-soap? Probably not.
But the world of Hillbilly Handfishin’ all of a sudden gives this entire hook that the show is based on. So it’s really that world that makes those guys stars.
Joke: And that’s, for those of you who haven’t seen the show, that’s catching fish with your hands, just a big catfish with putting your hand in their mouths and, you know. It’s very visual. It’s kind of scary, you know. It’s kind of a cool world to do. You can bring people into that world who are fish out of water and get a lot of, you know, comedy and drama out of that.
Biagio: It really is sort of the world that makes those characters.
Great Reality TV Characters are Bigger than their Worlds
Biagio: Whereas, if you look at a show like Flipping Out with Jeff Lewis, in a lot of ways, it’s his character that shapes that world.
Biagio: Because he can work in any business, right Joke?
Joke: I mean you can have Dog the Bounty Hunter as a hairdresser and I’d watch that show, you know. If it’s Dog as an undertaker, I’ll watch that show. He’s just such a big character that, you know, you’d probably watch him in any world.
The Granddaddy of Reality TV Worlds?
Some shows you’re really watching for the world. One of the biggest examples of that that kind of really defined the genre is Deadliest Catch.
The Bering Sea, the idea of these fishermen out on the water for that long in those dangerous, you know, weather conditions, you know, having to fish and get enough because this is going to have to sustain their family, you know, make enough money to sustain their family for the rest of the year that when it’s not fishing season.
You know, that’s an interesting world where there are stakes. So it’s very visual and stuff is happening.
Yes, over the years, those captains definitely became characters that you wanted to tune into. But overall, the biggest character in that show is the world of the Bering Sea.
Demanding Woman: Specifics people! I need specifics. Spe-ci-fic.
The Four Qualities Reality Television Worlds Must Have
Biagio: Here are four qualities you should look for in potential worlds for your unscripted TV shows, documentary series, reality TV shows.
Joke: Number one.
Reality TV World Trait One: Visual
Biagio: Needs to be visual. You want to go out there and be able to point the camera in any direction and get great pictures.
Joke: What is visual about this world? What’s exciting? You know, there’s a lot of stuff happening in people’s brains or online it’s really hard to get that across. You know, there’s this great world of internet start-ups. And you know the question is like, “What am I seeing?” It’s, you know, hipsters sitting at a desk, riding a skateboard from cubicle to cubicle.
Where if you say, “Listen, there’s a 30-day gator hunting season in Louisiana.” You go, “Wait, what?” And it’s skies and little boats, killing gators, dragging them on the boat. Now the boat’s almost sinking because they have like six gators that they have to go and, you know weigh.
And they get paid by the pound. It’s like, wow, you know. Visually – because television is a visual medium – that is such a rich world that I want to go explore.
Biagio: That, of course, is the show Swamp People that she’s talking about.
And that leads us into quality number two.
Reality TV World Trait Two: A Discovery
The world should feel like a discovery. And I do think Swamp People is a perfect example of that.
Joke: Yeah, it’s the idea that, wow, this world existed in this country and I had no idea about it. But it could be a world, you know, down in the Louisiana bayou like Swamp People or on New York Park Avenue where you have Pregnant in Heels, you know, Rosie Pope who runs a concierge service for Mamas to be, and helps, you know, Mamas to be anywhere from decorating a nursery to helping them pick out a name, you know.
“Hey, I don’t know what name to pick for my baby. So I think I’ll hire someone who is going to do three days of testing and focus-grouping on whether or not a name is right.” I mean, really? Like who knew this world existed. You know, I guess that’s how the one-percenters live. I don’t know.
But the idea is that there are different worlds, whether it’s down in Louisiana or, you know, up on Park Avenue, just an amazing world you and I have never seen of and probably wouldn’t be part of just like I’m probably never going to go gator hunting.
So if you have an idea or you know of such a world, it could be a great TV show. Television allows us the escape to kind of see these worlds and become part of these worlds in a fun and exciting and visual way.
Biagio: Have we let our daughter down since we didn’t focus group her name before we named her?
Joke: Yeah, I don’t think so. It’ll be fine.
Biagio: Okay, good. All right, moving on. So quality number three. The world itself can cause dramatic situations to occur.
Reality TV World Trait Three: Causes Drama On Its Own
Now probably the most obvious example of this –
Joke: – is nature.
Biagio: Nature, right?
Joke: Deadliest Catch, Swamp People, you know, Storm Chasers. The world itself has high stakes. It’s visual. There’s drama. It could be life or death. All of those things.
But at the same time, if we’re just looking at, you know, the world can cause drama, you can also look at the female driven shows, all the dress shop shows, you know, Say Yes to the Dress, and all of those shows where you go and pick a bride’s dress or a bridesmaid’s dress.
Those are situations where drama will occur. Different family members have different ideas of what the dress would be like. Different bridesmaids want different things with different body types. And so in that one world, you know there will be drama.
Biagio: I love that example because basically, the world of the dress shop becomes a pressure cooker that brings all the underlying conflicts that exists between family members to the surface.
Reality TV World Trait Four: Belongs on TV…Somewhere
Biagio: All right, and quality number four. Needs to fit somewhere on the TV landscape. We talked a little bit of this last episode with characters. It’s the same thing with worlds.
Joke: It has to be the right time and the right place unfortunately. And when you’re out there developing in a bubble that can be very hard to know where to spend your time and your resources and that’s why we’re opening these doors so that, you know, you can communicate with us and say, “Hey, I found this world.
Do you think now is the right time for me to spend my time and energy on developing that.”
And sometimes, it absolutely is. It’s like, “Wow! Yes, this is that new, that everything that we haven’t seen before.” And then sometimes, we can tell you like, “Hey, it’s not.”
Worlds that are Marketable…It’s Cyclical
For example, underwater shows right now – very hard to sell. A lot of networks have tried it and they didn’t do well. So whether it’s like underwater salvage or underwater treasure hunting, it’s visual and it has the stakes and it has all of that, but it’s just a very hard time to sell that right now.
Selling a dress shop show right now is very hard. There’s a million of them already on television. Selling a tattoo shop show right now is very hard. There’s a million of them on television.
It’s about finding the right time and the right concept and seeing if the marketplace is ready for it.
Great Reality TV Worlds: The Recap
Biagio: So to wrap up, the four qualities your world for a reality TV show, documentary series or a feature doc needs to have to really be considered:
- Number one: needs to be visual.
- Number two: should feel like a discovery.
- Number three: the world itself can cause dramatic situations to occur.
- Number four: needs to fit somewhere on the TV landscape, people.
Joke: And that’s it. I think if you look at worlds through, you know, those four filters, it’ll help us all a lot.
Biagio: Don’t forget, you know, as we pointed out in Episode 4, producingunscripted.com/004, please don’t go and spend a ton of money making a tape on a world that you think you’ve discovered and you think is great until you follow the step-by-step directions we gave in that episode.
Start a dialogue with us, and let us help you decide where to put your time and resources. I mean, we’re doing it for free, people. We’re handing out free advice. How can you turn it down?
So until next time, thanks so much for tuning in. If you like what we’re doing, it would mean the world if you would go to producingunscripted.com/itunes, leave us a rating and a comment.
And you know, until next time. Well, I guess we’ll see them in a couple of weeks, right Joke?
Joke: See you in a couple of weeks!
Biagio: Thanks, everybody. Bye-bye.
Announcer: Producing Unscripted with Joke and Biagio.
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