Starting Your Reality TV Career


Back in 2007, I posted a primer on how to kick off a career in reality television at the old blog, www.troydevolld.com.

For those of you considering reality writing / producing as a full-time job, I’m reposting it here with a few revisions.

As with most other jobs, you start at the bottom. In reality tv, you’ll begin as a “logger.” Logging isn’t the most difficult job to land, because most aspiring film school types aren’t beating the doors down to get jobs transcribing or (less painfully) summarizing hundreds or thousands of hours of source material so that the story department can more easily locate juicy moments.

In this position (which usually pays $500 to maybe $850 a week, you’ll be a star if you can turn out a good number of tapes every day, show up on time, and use THE SIMPLEST LANGUAGE POSSIBLE when describing the action in your logs.

Pay special attention to that bolded bit of advice. No one in a log “saunters.” They “walk” or “run,” because when I’m still working at nine o’ clock at night to find a shot the producer insists exists, I probably won’t be running word searches on “saunters.”

Also, if your spelling’s not up to snuff, don’t even think of going out for a logging position.

Once you start logging, get friendly with the story department. If you notice trends in action (as in, Participant X is annoying everyone by commanding the remote control in the house 0r Participant Y has mentioned three times already that he’d like to see Participant Z go home), point it out to your head logger or mention it in the breakroom to one of the story folks.  Show them you’ve got your “story brain” on.

Once you’ve paid your dues as a logger and someone’s noticed your aptitude for story, you’ll likely move into an Assistant Story Editor or Assistant Story Producer position. Here, you’ll get some light scenework thrown your way and probably make between $850 and $1200 a week while you help Story Editors or Story Producers review logs for action and possible storylines.

From there, you’ll eventually get your break as a Story Editor or Story Producer at $1200 to maybe $1800 a week (mid-career story people should eventually expect $1800-2500/wk). You’ll be placed in charge of either certain acts within an episode or full individual episodes, alternating those honors with your other on-staff story editors/story producers. You’ll have about a fifty percent chance of interaction with the Exec or Co-Exec Producers and the occasional development person. Some will be awesome, some will drive you bats with their notes. Either way, remember the words of Dan O’Shannon, whose words for traditional scripted writers hold true for reality writers as well — it’s not about creating the best television possible, it’s about pleasing your employers. Don’t take notes personally, just address what you can and move on to the next episode or series.

Lead Story Producer and Lead Story Editor positions are hard to come by, largely because these gigs are filled by people who’ve been with the companies forever or are well-known to the EP’s from other shows. Most Lead Story Producers and Lead Story Editors I know make between $1800 and $3000 a week, depending on whether the shows are cable or network and what kind of budgets are in place. They interact heavily with the EP’s and co-EP’s, and will almost certainly have some communication with the network development folks, who will inherently want to fiddle with your work — so again, don’t take it personally.

If you have any specific questions, comment away.  That’s what this blog is here for.

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6 thoughts on “Starting Your Reality TV Career

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  1. I stumbled across your blog while researching getting into reality TV–thanks for the helpful info!

    Two questions:

    1. Why is it that editors’ pay is so much higher than producers’, even leads, who are presumably at least equally (or more?) responsible for story development and show execution?

    2. I’m sure it’s different for everybody, but what kind of average time-frame is expected from starting at the bottom as a logger, to say, the “mid-career” post of story editor/producer?

    1. 1) It actually depends on the production company’s priorities individually. Top reality salaries for story that I’ve encountered are pretty much at parity with what editors are making. It’s never bothered me, as I really look to my editors as equal collaborators, not subordinates.

      2) It took me less than a year, but my case is an anomaly. I’d say that for someone who’s making it known in a good way that they want to move up, you can usually expect to break into story within two years and hit stride as far as commanding a decent salary by about your third or fourth story credit.

  2. If someone has an idea for a reality TV show that hasn’t been done yet, how do you get your idea in the right hands? Are you looking for reality TV show ideas?

    Thank you for your time,

    Full Sail Student,

    Desiree

    1. Hi, Desiree. Thanks for your question.

      I don’t take reality show pitches right now as I’m pretty swamped trying to sell my own stuff, but I can give you some helpful suggestions.

      First, does your show have a cast or subject that you can provide unique access to? If not, then your chances as a creator are pretty slim. Chances are that the idea has been proposed to someone before, whether it made it to the air or not. A unique approach to the execution of the idea is important, but not as helpful as you having a lockdown on the talent necessary to the show.

      Second, you would be pitching to production companies rather than networks as a new creator. You need an ally with a track record of producing successful shows that have sold to networks who can actually make the thing is someone says yes.

      Much of this is explained in the links in this entry, which also links to DMA’s book on creating and selling original series: https://realitytvtroy.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/creating-a-reality-show-again/#comments

      Good luck!

  3. One little update to this article… as logging is becoming a rarer thing within the walls of a production company (it’s often farmed out to outside transcription companies these days), you should also consider trying to bust in as a production assistant in the field or post, making it a point to open conversations with story folks when you can. Again, it’s all about making sure people know you’re looking to move up, not just pay rent.

    Play it cool and don’t be a pest about it, though!

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