Admittedly reality TV is my guilty pleasure. From the “Real Housewives” franchise to the drama that unfolds on VH1, A&E, and WEtv, my TiVo is set to watch them all. Remember when they said reality TV wouldn’t last. Reality television programming is going stronger than ever and there is no end in sight. When I look at what makes good reality TV today, it has changed dramatically from several years ago. So many people think that they have a great idea for a reality show, but few are very original. Additionally the standards and formats for reality programming is constantly changing. My dream is to someday produce and develop shows for television. The big questions are how do you break into development and what factors make a hit show today?
My curiosity and research led me to T Group Productions’ Elyse Seder. T Group Productions is one of the hottest reality television production companies in Los Angeles. T Group develops, sells, produces and licenses shows and formats domestically and internationally. Established by Jenny Daly in 2010 T Group has developed hits such as “Storage Hunters” for TruTV, “Invention USA” for History Channel and “Mystery Diners” and “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills” for Food Network as well as projects with A&E, Logo, GSN, and VH1 just to name a few.
Elyse Seder is the Vice President of Development responsible for taking those ideas that many of us think that we have and develops them so that they make it to network. Seder shares with me how she got her start in development, the current state of reality television and what it takes to land your project on television.
Starting Her Career in Television
I began my career in the news, working for KSDK in St Louis, a job I had while I was in college. There honestly is no better place to learn how to get things done fast and efficiently, a skill that has certainly helped me throughout my reality TV career. From there, I moved back to L.A. and got a job working in production at Comedy Central on two series: Mind of Mencia and Drawn Together. I really enjoyed production, but realized I wanted to sink my teeth into the creative side. I got a job with Endemol USA -that was where I dipped my toe in the reality TV pool and learned to develop for multiple genres – game, competition, docu and more. I learned the ins and outs of development. My love of and passion for development definitely stuck, because I’ve been developing unscripted shows ever since.
The Most Fun Part of Her Job
There is such a fun variety of work that I do on a daily basis in development. That keeps me engaged and excited every day I’m constantly introduced to new people and new worlds because of the shows I develop. Every person that comes in to pitch, every new character that we find, every new concept that’s developed is opening the door to something new.
Advice for People Interested in a Career as a Development Exec or TV Production
I know people say they can’t get into the biz unless they know someone. Not true. I didn’t have any “ins”, no friends or family members that opened the door for me. I started on my own by really hustling – you know, you learn very quickly that with tenacity, drive and a little hustle, you can go very far..
Another primary piece of advice is this- be prepared to fail. It’s an unpredictable industry so it’ll quickly teach you to grow a thick skin. Failing is just as important as succeeding. To be original, to be innovative, to be constantly growing you have to take risks for the shows that you develop. We development executives hear a lot more no’s than yes’s. But I have learned that if you’re driven by passion for the project instead of being driven simply by necessity to sell, you’ll sink your teeth into what you do with a lot more ease.
Next on Her Career List to Accomplish
I love being a seller. It’s been my sweet spot for the last several years. But, someday, I think I would like to try my hand on the buying side as well. I’m in no hurry, but it’s on my bucket list.
Growth of Reality TV from the Late 90’s to Present and Audience Expectations
Reality TV has really evolved and gone through many stages. The bar is constantly rising. Despite that, there is one constant: the reason for tuning in has stayed the same: Escapism. I think that the expectation for any audience member whether you’re male, female, young or old, no matter what your socio-economic background is or affiliation, it’s that when you turn on your TV, you’re going to be transported into a world that strays from the mundane and from your “norm.” That is really the function of reality TV. It’s pure entertainment. But that being said, expectation is also that we will be able to relate to some piece of what’s happening on screen. As much as audiences may expect to learn, be shocked, surprised and at times mortified by what they see on the TV screen, there will always be a layer to the show and/or character that makes us go, “hey, that could be us.” But when you come back from your 9 to 5 job, when you come back from dropping your kids off at soccer practice, a night out, you can turn on your TV and you can feel like whatever world you’re escaping into, is perhaps a little bit better than yours or a little bit worse than yours, but it’s not yours and that’s what makes it fascinating.
Current Trends in Reality TV
Reality TV trends are constantly evolving and one of the most exciting and challenging parts of the job is staying in front of the wave and not being behind it. “Real life” reality sitcoms are popping up everywhere. Oftentimes, networks will give directives like, “we’re looking for our very own Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld or Andy Griffith Show. We’ll oftentimes be sitting in a meeting and instantly draw a comparison between our ensemble cast and that of a well-known scripted sitcom. Immersion into quirky, fun, different sub-cultures is another trend that I think has a nice, long shelf life. To that point, scripted TV paves the way for which communities/slices of life may bring in a large audience across a reality platform. It provides a nice litmus test for what works and what doesn’t. Think of some recent reality shows that have sold: The Devil’s Ride on Discovery (Sons of Anarchy on FX), Sister Wives on TLC (Big Love on HBO), and The Pitch on AMC (Mad Men). It’s no coincidence that sometimes, the scripted world sets the stage for reality.
The Components of a Good Reality Show
There are many elements to a successful show, but just a few big ones are: 1) Great Characters- The most appealing characters are the most relatable characters. The most relatable characters are those who expose themselves – good, bad and ugly. When you start to see the vulnerable, raw sides of someone– believe it or not — we start to care. We either love them or love to hate them. I look for characters that are big and outrageous; who speak in an unfiltered way. 2) Originality in concept- the word ‘derivative’ is thrown around a lot in pitch rooms. We must raise the bar when it comes to developing further in the reality space-keep things fresh, make what seems ordinary extraordinary, find ways of tweaking sometimes stale ideas in order to revamp and reignite interest. 3) Repeatability- Can we tune in to a show anytime and still be interested? Are the stories captivating? Is the world shocking? If the episodes are what we call ‘arcing’ instead of ‘self contained’… does the cast make us want to know what happened last week and what’s going to happen next week?
How to Approach a Production Company with an Idea
Always come to T Group. Just kidding. Every production company has a website that is loaded with information about the kinds of shows they are currently casting and the shows that they both previously and currently have on air, and that’s always a good place to start.
Upcoming T Group Productions Projects
It’s been a busy year with nearly a dozen pilot and series ordered in 2013 alone, including Celebrities Undercover to Oxygen, Thingamabob to H2, House of Food to MTV and Church Rescue to NatGeo. T Group is also expanding into the scripted space with a new series with Will Rokos (Copper) and Phil Ford (Dr Who) and into the digital arena as well. It’s a great time to be on board!
For all of the reality television fanatics, if you think your family and friends would make good television or you’ve got the next idea for a hit television show you’ve just learned some inside tips from an expert. For more information on T Group Productions visit their website or follow on Facebook and Twitter.