Where Have I Been? / On Consulting


Swiping the title of Sid Caesar’s autobiography for a quick second as it seems like forever since I’ve updated the ol’ blogaroo, here.

I’m having a wonderful time finishing up HOLLYWOOD DIVAS, which opens on TV ONE in the fall, and am in talks to head back to a show I haven’t been on for nearly ten years, a surprise I’ll announce later when the ink dries. Meanwhile, though, I’ve been readying a new online webinar for the Writers Store folks on August 11 and revamping my presentations for StoryExpo in September.

The podcast is churning along, too, though taking a brief hiatus as I edit a few shows down so that I can relaunch on track every Sunday as originally intended. Having loads of fun, especially with another informal living room visit with Karen Simmons (Basketball Wives) and Eddie Pepitone (a past participant on Last Comic Standing). This husband/wife team are some of my dearest friends and a real hoot in our hour together.

Thanks for being patient. I’ll be back soon!

On the consulting front, I’ve continued my Saturday morning schedule of consults and have to say that I’ve had a lucky streak of dealing with some very sharp folks lately.

Owing to my longtime disdain for the kind of consultants and coaches who’ll take on anyone with a checkbook, I can be brutally frank and often tell people that there’s nothing I can do for them if their only questions are about access, money, and how to keep networks and production companies from “ruining” their ideas (translation: having any input whatsoever).

And then there’s the email I got this week from somebody who managed to insult me, my work, my style (“silly” suits) and my shows, while imploring me to do something positive for a change and sell his show. That is, if I didn’t just delete the email first “because of [my] huge ego.”

Whoa.

To be clear: I don’t sell shows for my consulting clients. I help you refine what you’ve got and leave it to you to get those meetings and pitch like a pro. Once in a VERY blue moon, if I think there’s a love connection, I’ll quietly pass an idea along to an exec pal or two who might like it, but that’s not a service I render, and if you’re not ready for prime time, no amount of money is going to get me to squander my goodwill capital.

The good ones make it worth doing. I’ll always see myself as a working producer first and a consultant second. It’s the only reason I ever consented to being part of the TV Writers Summit events — EVERYONE on that team has spent time actually doing what they’re showing people how to do.

To close in the proper upbeat tone I was after when I started — thanks to the great consulting clients old and new who make it worth spending my Saturday mornings on the phone.

By realitytvtroy

Dumbth


Just posted my interview with fellow reality producer Jon Collins today and wanted to make special mention of the podcast in that it deals with a situation Jon and I have found to be a sticky one over the years: the nagging presumption that reality television viewers are somehow dumber than people who watch regular scripted programming.

You’re constantly being reminded of things through flashback and repetition that you don’t normally encounter when watching procedurals and other scripted drama, and neither one of us can quite figure out why some people don’t trust the audience to remember things.  Sure, you might get up and go stir the chili at some point, but in the age of the DVR, you can just press “pause.”  Ever stood up in a movie and yelled, “I can’t be expected to remember what happened eleven minutes ago” to anyone?  No?  Shouldn’t happen with TV, either.

Anyway, check it out.  Jon was a great guest.  You can go to the archives and hear the past interviews with Shelly Goldstein (Biography, Behind the Music), Carl Hansen (Shark Tank), Andrew Hoagland (Basketball Wives and the upcoming Hollywood Divas) or Joey Ortega (of Howie Mandel’s Alevy Productions), too.

CLICK HERE for the podcast archives!

A Few Words About the REMEMBER WE’RE NOT HERE PODCAST


Just so you know, the podcast will not be replacing the blog.  Keep coming here for my sporadic posts about varying reality television topics.  The podcast is reserved for interviews and general fun stuff with my various TV friends and acquaintances.

REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE goes live with a new podcast installment every Sunday at noon starting next week, so be sure to subscribe on iTunes (free) or check the blog for each new episode around the same time.

Here’s the first episode, featuring Joey Ortega, Manager of Development for Howie Mandel’s Alevy Productions.

http://rememberwerenothere.libsyn.com

By realitytvtroy

The Post-Mortem: Why It Pays To Write One at the End of the Season


Abstracted

When someone dies, medical professionals sometimes perform a post-mortem (autopsy) on the corpse in order to gain understanding of what went wrong and to evaluate any disease or trauma that might be present.  Post-mortems often lead to academic discovery and become useful in the future treatment of illnesses and injuries.

While there’s a great deal of difference between the medical field and producing a reality television program, I hate to dash out the door at the end of my run on a show without looking back and asking what we might have been able to do better for our “patient,” the series.

When completing a season, I strongly urge producers at the Supervising Producer level and above to write up a simple one or two page post-mortem detailing practices that they feel worked or did not work in all areas of the production.  Sometimes the company or showrunner won’t be interested in them, but even if they’re done just for your own understanding, they’ll help you to avoid missteps and enable you to repeat or improve upon what worked when you’re hired back on either the next season or your next project.

It’s important to approach the post-mortem not as an exercise in placing blame or heaping praise on individuals or departments, but in being able to enter subsequent seasons and other future efforts with greater focus and an understanding of the show’s stumbles and triumphs.

Points to ponder:

  • Were workflow and creative objective clearly outlined from the onset of the show?
  • Were adequate resources made available to production?  Post-production?
  • Were the allotted resources used efficiently?
  • Did the internal review process work?
  • Did the external (network) review process work?
  • Were there any surprises along the way?  Did we deal with them effectively and efficiently?
  • Were there any issues with staff or crew retention?  What were the sources of conflict there in the event of poor retention?
  • Was communication between field and post effective?  How can we improve communication next season?
  • What unique challenges did the show propose?
  • Did we improve or erode our relationship with the cast over the season?  How can we improve our relationship in subsequent seasons?

You know what they say —  those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.  A little navel-gazing at the end of a run will make you a better storyteller and professional.

 

By realitytvtroy

REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE podcast preview episode launches today at 12N PST


RWNH

It’s my pleasure to announce the very first REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE podcast launching today at 12 noon PST.  My inaugural guest is the funny and charming Joey Ortega, Manager of Development at Howie Mandel’s Alevy Productions, the folks behind content like MOBBED and DEAL WITH IT, currently airing on TBS Wednesdays at 10:30/9:30C.  Joey’s an expert on reality competition and game shows, and we had a great time.

The podcast launches in earnest on May 18 (with new episodes each Sunday at noon) and will feature various reality and game pro guests each week.  The title comes from the frequent on-set reminder to reality casts, “Remember, We’re Not Here.”

Podcast / Consulting / Small Thoughts


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Hi, all!

Just finished editing the first episode of the REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE podcast with the remarkable Joey Ortega of Howie Mandel’s Alevy Productions.  Watch the blog for an announcement of the start date.  Future guests are being lined up, and it’ll be a perfect compliment to the blog.  Sometimes general, sometimes VERY inside baseball, I hope there’ll be something in it for everyone.

I’m also not currently on a show, and while I’m using the downtime to develop new ideas to try to sell, please know that I’m also making myself available for consults again.  If you are interested in a phone consult on your career, series concept, or “other,” drop me a line at realitytvtroy[at]gmail.com.

In closing, here are a few small thoughts I’ve had recently that don’t quite warrant complete blog entries:

  • Be loyal, but don’t be stupid.
  • If you and an employer part ways, try to keep it positive.  You may not be remembered for why you left, but you will most certainly be remembered for how you left.
  • Unrealistic expectations are the norm in reality television now.  Before you beat yourself up, remember — if you can’t meet an impossible deadline, it’s because the deadline was impossible.  Often, this is a result of a network approving a lower budget than is actually needed to execute the show.  Do your best, but if you are working a hundred hours a week at a flat salary to push the show out the door, it’s okay to want to go somewhere else.  What’s not okay is for you to stay and complain about the situation all day, further polluting an already toxic and depressing situation.
By realitytvtroy

“I’m Hosting as Fast as I Can”: Lessons Learned from a Master, Tom Bergeron of Dancing With the Stars and America’s Funniest Home Videos


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Last night, I attended a nice panel event at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences celebrating the upcoming 25th season of America’s Funniest Home Videos.  I’ve long admired the show, as there’s very little in the way of family programming that really has something for everyone of every age, and it’s succeeded on every possible level.

When it came time to discuss host Tom Bergeron’s departure and the search for a replacement, Executive Producer Vin Di Bona shared a few things that defined, for him, what made Bergeron such an ideal fit for the show for the last 14 years, really nailing the reason for Bergeron’s specific success with AFV and crystallizing my own thoughts on selecting the right hosts for different types of shows.

My impression has always been that a host (be it in magazine shows, reality shows, or any other corner of the TV universe) is there to facilitate rather than call attention to himself or herself, which is why you seldom see big personalities hosting shows unless they’re participants in the action as judges or adventurers.  Chris Harrison’s a great host for The Bachelor because he doesn’t project a lot of himself into the proceedings and is adept at keeping things moving.   You wouldn’t expect to see him hosting Dirty Jobs (which was reliant on Mike Rowe’s personality and participation) or  No Reservations (which was defined by Anthony Bourdain’s unique voice and perspective), but he’s perfect for a show that’s about other people, interrupted only by the occasional interview or setup.  Last night’s panel moderator, Mario Lopez, succeeds as a host on Extra because you know you like him, but the stories are the focus of whatever he’s sharing.

With America’s Funniest Home Videos, I feel like Bergeron hits a sweet spot between hosting and performing, in that he’s performing (delivering jokes) but in a way that’s shifting the focus away from himself to the action.  The payoff isn’t for his benefit, it’s for the benefit of the then-enhanced clip content.  He’s taking a funny thing and making it funnier without making it about himself… which is exactly what Rowe and Bourdain are masters at, but he differs from a Harrison or a Probst in that being relatable as a human being and getting his personality across is critical to his success.

When you watch shows like “World’s Dumbest Criminals,” you see a bunch of comedians commenting on each clip as it’s run over and over.  What’s happening there is that the joke about the clip becomes the focus of the comic, not the clip itself.  The comic is trying to top the action, and on shows with many comics, it starts to feel like a contest after a while.  Bergeron sets up a clip to maximize the impact of the content, then trails away with a fun piece of commentary.  That’s it.  Yes, it’s largely the effort of the writers that makes this work, but Bergeron… he’s just exactly the right guy for the job.  He’s not a comic, he’s a funny guy who’s there to support the content instead of himself.

This, I think, explains why Tom always balked at the cutesy alliterative copy I sometimes gave him on Dancing With the Stars in the early seasons.  “Tantalizing tangos” and “quintessential quicksteps” were turns of phrase, an idiot writer/producer’s version of showing off (hey, I was only five years into my career and not so nuanced yet) instead of supporting the host’s persona and in turn, enriching the material.  I finally got it in season three, but man, did I get schooled by overhearing him reading my copy in a booth one fateful afternoon.  The man knows what works and what doesn’t, which is why you’ll always hear him referring to himself as a broadcaster… he’s no mere word-repeating puppet, and isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and give you his two cents.

Check the VIDEO around the 8:05 remaining mark (the player counts backwards) to find out what Vin has to say.  Tom’s comment about being the Martin to the video clips’ Lewis a few seconds later is a gem, too.

 

Caucus Foundation Auction Time!


Most of you that follow the blog know that a few times a year the Caucus Foundation holds an auction to help fund its mission, and that usually, I participate in some capacity as a meetup/experience prize.  In the current auction, I’m in twice — once for brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel and again for a one-hour phone consult.

This particular auction is special, as it’s got some really incredible meet-and greets including:

  • Chuck Fries, Godfather of the Television Movie and one of the few producers to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Culley Bunker, VFX artist whose work is featured in the new Lady Gaga G.U.Y. video and countless other music videos and other projects
  • Marc Fishman, an Emmy-winning Sound Re-Recording Mixer with credits on Bridesmaids and other big films
  • Leslie Brathwaite, the Grammy-winning mix engineer behind Pharrell’s HAPPY and projects for TLC, Jay-Z and too many artists to count
  • Suzanne de Passe, the iconic and influential Motown figure who helped discover the Jackson 5 and has continued on to a wildly successful career in music, film and television
  • Beth Bohn, founder of Beth Bohn Management in LA

Great experiences for a great cause!  Check ‘em out at http://www.charitybuzz.com/support/CaucusFoundation

On Flexibility


When I was young, I wanted to be a cartoonist more than anything.  I went to college, put out a couple of books that only did so-so in the marketplace, and came home one Christmas break to find an offer from an old friend to write a few commercials for Woody Woodpecker’s 50th Anniversary merchandise.  It wasn’t the same as my dream of working in comics, but I thought it might be fun.  It turned out to be quite an adventure and led to writing some regional television.

I was flexible, and it paid off as I discovered a talent for writing in a different medium.

I continued down the path as a writer, found myself an agent, and tried my hand at writing feature screenplays.  A few were well-received, so after I went to film school, I eventually moved to Los Angeles to chase that dream.

Halfway across the country, while watching television in a Texas hotel room, I saw the name of one of the only people I knew in Los Angeles scroll by in the end credits of a show.  By the time I got to California, I had an interesting lead on a job working with him in reality television, where I could be part of something that paid the bills until I managed to sell a screenplay.

Again, I was flexible.  I had no idea where it would lead me, but it sounded like fun.

I found myself enjoying reality television and the stability of the work.  I had the chance to work on a lot of interesting shows at a time when reality was still figuring out its most modern incarnation.  Survivor had made its debut that year, and reality was booming.  I put the traditionally-scripted dream away for a while and chased reality television hard enough to make a name for myself in it.

Guess what?   I had a great time.  A decade and a half later, I’m still having a great time.  I can count myself among the creative teams behind a respectable number of milestone shows in reality television.  I was nominated for an Emmy® in 2009.  I’ve written what some call the definitive text on producing for reality and traveled the world showing people how to tell stories more effectively in a corner of the business often derided for its fast, cheap and noisy approach to entertainment.  Yet, there’s sometimes a “gee whiz, you sold out and abandoned your dream” tone to the way a lot of students and young filmmakers talk to me that continues to drive me nuts.

I have a lot of respect for my friends who write, produce and direct films.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with Guardians of the Galaxy and Super writer/director James Gunn on some of his shorts (as a 1st and 2nd AD), written a short that featured Jenna Fischer and ran on the front page of NBC.com, and had meetings galore on different feature specs of my own.  Its fun, but it’s not my bread and butter… reality is.

I’ve had many years of working 50 weeks strong on reality shows.  For a period recently, I was handling two and three shows at a time during the height of Basketball Wives, Basketball Wives L.A. and the less popular Baseball Wives on VH1.  I should feel bad because my idealized fantasy screenwriting career didn’t take off?  I don’t think so.  With hundreds of hours of finished product all over the marketplace and a number of ratings triumphs to boot, I’ve enjoyed this unexpected twist more than you can imagine.  I’ve worked on shows featuring everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to George Hamilton to Gabrielle Carteris.  I’ve made good friends and worked with a great many of the folks on The Hollywood Reporter’s latest “25 Most Powerful People in Reality Television” list.

I get it.  Movies are cool.  They just are.  It would be fun to say I wrote Iron Man at parties. I have no regrets, though — wonderful things happen when you’re flexible in your career choices and surf new opportunities as they arise.

Heck, some of the best stuff I’ve seen in ages is on the web.  Few things make me laugh as hard as a good Glove and Boots video from Bento Box on YouTube, and surprise — that’s not feature writing, either.  Have a look:

 

All I’m saying is — look around you.  Realize that you can have a lot of fun with the many variations on your “ideal” career.  I’m glad I’ve had an opportunity to make my living as a storyteller… which I might not have if I’d turned up my nose at reality almost fifteen years ago.  I sometimes oversimplify my position by saying that the important thing is that your checks clear… not every project is your dream project, but every time you get paid for lending your creativity to something, it pours a little more water on that seed in your heart that working at a bank or a pallet yard might not.

The important thing is to make stuff and have fun.  Be flexible and enjoy the opportunities as they roll in.

 

Pep Talks with Eddie Pepitone #15: Troy DeVolld


A one-hour podcast with my pal, comedian Eddie Pepitone (late of Conan, Arsenio and the Steven Feinartz documentary THE BITTER BUDDHA) and his wife, Karen Simmons, one of my frequently recurring reality television coworkers.

Topics include reality television, pop surrealists, Allee Willis, Jennifer Pozner, tea at Harrods with my mother, and more.