By Reader Request: Scott Asks About Talent as Producers

From frequent poster Scott J:

“Troy, what are your thoughts about the talent being involved in the production of the show. And by “show” I mean a solo personality driven show (e.g., Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations), not a competition elimination show (e.g., Big Brother) or a troupe cast type show (e.g., Jersey Shore).  As speaking as a producer, if it is the only way you’ll get this talent to be part of the show, how do you deal with such? Do you run for the hills, deal with it, or welcome it? If you should run for the hills, why? If you deal or welcome it, how it is usually handled and, from your experience, best handled?”

Well, here’s the deal.  I’ve partnered with some big names before on projects I’ve taken out and had positive experiences every time so far.  We made arrangements to take an equal share of the thing going into partnership with the production company, and were smart enough not to get into the fantasy-league conversations about money and control that sometimes happen way too early in the process.  That’s usually where mistakes happen in working with celebrity talent.  With the folks I built shows around, all were collaborative, curious, and patient in exploring their reality TV options.

Always have an arrangement on paper that outlines how long you and the talent will be considered partners on the individual project, as no one’s going to tie themselves to you indefinitely while you try to sell their show.  Ideally, I suggest a term of 90 days to six months.

When to run for the hills:  The talent is demanding full creative control from the onset.  I’ve only moved forward on one show pitch like this, and it was because I was in full agreement that the talent SHOULD have creative control and was willing to risk not selling the show over diluting the talent’s extraordinary vision and personality.  Remember, you can’t promise anything except your support on any demand unless you happen to own the network (in which case, why haven’t you invited me to pitch to you lately?).  Getting a prodco or network to agree to those kind of conditions is such a steep uphill climb it’s practically a wall, but hey, things have been known to happen.

Another time to run?  When talent creates outrageous demands that make doing the show cost prohibitive.  Again, big red flag.  No, we aren’t going to rent a mansion for you at 50 grand a month while you shoot a basic cable cooking series no matter how big a diva draw you think you are.

“Isn’t it also true that if the solo personality reality show is dependent on the talent, that talent is effectively and essentially the executive producer since you cannot replace them? They might not hold the title of EP, but they hold the power of one and over the “official” EP. I see this regularly happening with dramas. Once the show is a hit, the star(s) of the show have more power then anyone else since without them, there is no show and they then usually take over control of the show.”

This is all something to be worked out contractually before the start of a show.  “Meaningful consultation” is often a stipulation of a celebrity contract, but the EP credit can mean many things or nothing at all.  Sure, celebs can hold a show hostage, but often that puts them either in breach of their contracts or at risk of killing their golden goose.  Many contracts in both traditionally scripted television and reality specify pay raise amounts over consecutive seasons, extent of creative input, number of seasons agreed to before next renegotiation, and so on.


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