There are more opportunities than ever for you to sell reality show concepts to Hollywood. Virtually every broadcast and cable network is aggressively airing as many reality shows as they can.
The reason is simple. It’s cheap to produce them. And if a show catches on – like American Idol, Survivor, or The Real World – it can attract larger audiences than the most popular scripted programs.
This year, the reality show Dancing With the Stars snagged as many as 22.5 million viewers per episode. In comparison, a top-rated sitcom like How I Met Your Mother brings in about 8 million viewers.
The low cost of producing reality shows, combined with their large audiences, equals big profits. According to The Wall Street Journal, each episode of UPN’s Top Model costs about $800,000. Meanwhile, the cost of an average scripted drama is in the range of $2 million.
Why is it so much cheaper to produce reality shows? Simple. The people appearing on them can usually be paid much less than those on scripted programs. In addition, filming is usually done in the participants’ homes, which avoids expensive set construction and labor costs. And they require only a bare-bones writing staff.
If the show is a big hit, the production company can earn enormous licensing fees. The New York Times reports that the production company of American Idol had revenues that grew to $96 million last year from $67 million two years earlier, with gross profit margins expanding to 77 percent from 69 percent.
If you could get in on that kind of action, you’d not only have “made it” in Hollywood, you’d have a nice chunk of change for your “trouble.”
However, you need more than just a good idea. I’ve pitched shows to producers well over a hundred times, and I’ve found them to be surprisingly unimaginative.
They need to be shown precisely what the show will be like.
One of the best tools for doing that is a video “demo.”
Let’s use Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice as an example.
In this show, two teams of celebrities compete by performing a specified business task. The team that does it better wins. One member of the losing team is “fired.” The following week, the remaining celebrities are given another challenge – and this continues until only one celebrity is left.
The celebrities appear on the show in order to raise money for charities they support – plus, they get publicity as a result of being on nationally broadcast network TV.
Viewers watch the celebrities as they go about planning and completing the assigned task. Along the way, there is constant bickering and feuding… as well as plenty of drama.
So, if you were going to make a demo for Celebrity Apprentice, it might look like this:
1. A 30-second clip of Donald Trump telling the celebrities about their task.
2. Several quick sound bytes of celebrities speaking into the camera about how they feel about the task.
3. Some scenes of celebrities butting heads as they try to get the task done.
4. A 30-second clip of their final results.
5. Some brief squabbling while Trump berates the celebrities in the boardroom and then fires one of them.
Almost anyone can produce a demo reel. It has to look fairly professional (i.e., it can’t look like you shot it with your cellphone), but it doesn’t need to be anywhere near as polished as an actual broadcast show.
Fortunately for today’s aspiring reality show producers, high quality video equipment no longer costs an arm and a leg. A basic mini-DV camera can be bought for only a few hundred dollars – and if you don’t want to buy one, you can rent one for even less. Not only that… if you don’t want to shoot the demo yourself, there are many professional videographers out there who charge very reasonable rates.
If you’re interested in creating a video demo to pitch an idea to reality television show producers, here are some tips to get you started:
- Capture the essence of the show in no more than five minutes – three minutes would be better. Hollywood producers are incredibly pressed for time, and have no patience. If they can’t “get” what your show would be like in a few minutes, they will almost certainly stop watching and pass on the project.
- When possible and appropriate, add music to enhance the “feel” of the show. If, for example, the show is about an up and coming female martial artist, you might use high-energy rock music.
- Keep the video fast-paced, with lots of quick cuts between scenes.
- Capture some panic, anguish, excitement… something the execs can sink their teeth into.
- Use someone with a professional broadcasting voice to do a voiceover narration. If that’s not possible, just use captions to make it easy for the viewer to understand what’s going on onscreen.
If you come up with a hot idea for a reality TV show and present it to producers in a professional manner, they will take you seriously – even if they’ve never heard of you before. And, if they like your idea… you could be on your way to a new career in the entertainment industry.[Ed. Note: Paul Lawrence is a produced screenwriter who’s had a multimillion-dollar film produced and released worldwide. He has signed two development deals to produce reality shows with established Hollywood television production companies. For more information on Paul’s “How to Break Into Hollywood” program, just click right here.]