How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Critics

I’m a basically happy guy, and only a couple of things ever really get to me in a way that messes with my default mood.

Dealing with the occasional insecurities of other people who need to tear others down to fulfill their own power fantasies is one of those, but what are you gonna do? It’s Los Angeles.

The other? The never-ending critical war on reality television.

I’ve been working on getting past both of these things, and I think it might finally be time to let it go. You can’t make anyone think differently than they do about shows they won’t even watch any more than you’ll ever be able to convince your mother to try sushi, another craft that takes years to perfect.

How do you know you won’t like what you don’t try?

I can share the findings of studies that show that girls who view reality television more readily see themselves as leaders and role models among their peers.

I can tell you that you haven’t seen anything until you see what goes on behind the scenes of artfully directed and choreographed live reality-competition broadcasts like Dancing With the Stars.

I can tell you that one of my favorite media scholars (one of the world’s most respected, in fact) has stated time and again that it’s about the audience use of the characters and that virtually no one is looking at the villains of any work on television and saying things like “I want to be just like that.”

But none of it is going to alter the opinions of people whose chief aim in life is to hate everything.

Thus, I withdraw from the battlefield and back to the business of just trying to figure out how to make the shows I’m on better than they might deserve to be. I’m going to keep my head down and apply my hard-won story knowledge to making sure that you can follow a story, cheer for your heroes and boo your villains. I’m not going to resort to making the good guy always right or the bad guy always wrong to appease people in media who insist that reality shows have “too much conflict.” I might, however, point out your hypocrisy in supporting scripted shows chock full of violence, sex and language while you’re creating a big hullabaloo over someone throwing a glass of water or getting crafty to undermine someone they’re competing with.

I’ll close with this fun fact: No one who has ever used the Kardashians as a show emblematic of bad TV at one of my lectures has ever subsequently admitted to watching even one episode of any of their shows. Their full opinion on the family is reliant on TMZ and tabloid gossip.

Wait, did I say I’m letting all of this go? Maybe I’m not quite there yet. But I’m trying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go for a barefoot walk in the grass and work on my breathing.


Pro Tip: Promoting Yourself

Invitation for my “Tenth Year in LA” party several years ago.

With hundreds of hours of television in the rearview mirror, you’d imagine that it would get easier for me, this business of promoting myself among my peers.  Truth is, it can still be tough.

I’m very big on gentle reminders… the occasional email here or there, a lunch invitation between shows to catch up with those I’m often too busy to connect with in person or those who are hard to connect with unless it’s over a quick bite near wherever they’re working.

Others in the business go big.  A successful Executive Producer pal of mine threw a birthday party for herself this weekend at a trendy venue designed to hold about 35 people. Many multiples of that number showed up to pack the little space, invited guests including company owners, network execs, and other busy colleagues who knew it would be a fun opportunity to reconnect with each other as well as wish the birthday gal a great night.

However you choose to stay in touch with colleagues, do it.  I moved to the outer edges of Los Angeles last year, so I find it more important than ever to remind people that I’m around, as individual gigs can take me out of social play for months.

There are plenty of ways not to keep in touch.  Bulk emails letting people know you’re available for work actually breed resentment much of the time.  If you want to let people know you’re available in social media, do it in code.  I might announce that I’m “wrapping a project for some really terrific people” and let those I’m connected with put two and two together rather than straight hit them up for work.  If there’s something coming up, I’m sure they’ll call.

A personalized (not bulk) email with an updated resume attached is also a nice way to go.  Let people know you have an out date coming up and you just wanted to be sure they have an updated version of your resume in case anything’s brewing where they’re working.

No matter how you approach keeping your name in play, don’t just drop in digitally when you need work.  Cultivate those relationships.  The continuity of your employment depends on it.


“Reality TV” Second Edition Preorder Bonus and Special Offers

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In an effort to boost pre-orders for the second edition of REALITY TV, which would make my publisher very happy, I’d like to offer a free PDF copy of my book AND ANOTHER THING: A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO THE TV NOTES PROCESS to anyone who orders the book online or through their local bookseller up until the release date, June 1.  Simply order the book and then drop a line with “PREORDER OFFER” in the subject line to me at realitytvtroy[at] so I can reply with the PDF attachment.


If you’d like a signed copy of REALITY TV, just order one through me at the full cover price of $24.95 and I’ll mail you one, shipping included, within a few days of the book’s official release.  To do so, just drop an email (with your mailing address included) reading “SIGNED COPY” in the subject line and I’ll send a PayPal invoice your way.

Finally, if you’ve been considering spending consult time with me, I’ve got an offer up at the site for a two-hour dinner consult at Hollywood’s Musso and Frank Grill (meal-inclusive up to $150/person), a one-hour follow-up call, and a signed copy of the book.  A portion of the proceeds goes to the Red Cross.


Online Resources


As you’ve seen if you follow me here or on Facebook or Twitter, Reality TV’s second edition is due for release on June 1.

Around that time, I’m sure to be slammed with consulting requests and loads of questions. Not that I’m complaining at all – it’s really thrilling to work with you one-on-one to develop your ideas into more commercially viable concepts, but it’s always a little disheartening when someone pays me good money for consulting, then wastes their time asking questions that are clearly answered in the book, which costs about ten percent of a single hour of consult time.

I value our time and your wallet more than that, so please – check out the book first!  I promise you’ll like it, and if you don’t, you can always use it to shore up that wobbly coffee table.

In addition to Reality TV, there are other resources available. For example, Screenwriters University offers online courses based on the book. You can click HERE to see which ones are coming up. Many people find these to be a good way to go as the course assignments come with weekly review and input from me online.  No, not a robot or another instructor.  Just me!

If you can’t make it to any of my speaking engagements, there are also a number of archived webinars available through The Writers Store HERE. Just like my seminars, I always start out with a rigid outline that quickly relaxes into much more informal back-and-forth conversation with those who participated in the initial webinars.

And, while I know I’ve put it out there often, there’s always REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE, my seldom-updated podcast series interviewing other reality professionals on their experiences in front of and behind the lens.  You can find free episodes on iTunes or at Libsyn.

But wait, there’s more.  You can hear my thoughts on a number of aspects of reality television production on YouTube.  Film Courage spent several hours with me to come up with these short subjects. features a number of modules for purchase that cover specific areas of reality production.  Guided by Emmy, Telly and CINE award-winning host Jason J Tomeric, these modules, in addition to being informative, also feature my terrible attempt at a moustache.

Hope some of these are of use!


Pro Tip: Odd But Useful Advice From Media Titans

Full Sail President Garry Jones poses with a number of the University’s 42 Hall of Fame inductees during this year’s Hall of Fame event.

Once a year, Full Sail University inducts six alums into its Hall of Fame, inviting previous inductees back to speak to students on everything from our personal journeys and professional accomplishments to the state of our industries.  This year, for some reason, was an especially emotional one for all of us… though I’m unsure why.

At one point, I found myself sandwiched on a panel between Joey Morelli of EA Sports and Sebastian Krys, a guy who has more Grammys than I can count, offering the oddball advice to remember that your career shouldn’t be the only thing you have at the end of the day when the lights are off.  I consider my “career above all” attitude a huge mistake made early in my career that I’m only now correcting.

Was that the kind of advice students want to hear?  Maybe not.  But I’m sure that very few of them were thinking 20 years down the road in terms of family and work/life balance.

Here are several bits of the best unexpected advice I’ve received about the entertainment business from colleagues (Full Sail Hall of Famers and others) over the years:

(From a Grammy-winning producer)

It’s on you to develop your skill set and keep moving forward.

When this producer got the chance to intern at a major recording facility in Miami, he spent what other interns would consider “down time” accessing the studio and learning as much as he could on his own.  At one point, he even invited performers to come in and record with him so he could get the experience of working with talent.  Soon, he went from being the young guy that producers didn’t want on the board in their sessions to being in high demand with big producers and artists.

(From another Grammy-winning producer)

This one, I’ve only just heard.  I was hanging out in a hotel lobby with two incredibly talented, award-winning producers/mixers when one started to talk about artists managing other artists.  The problem, he said, is that some artists are afraid of the artists they break becoming bigger and better than they are.

That should be the goal, he continued.  There should be no limit to what knowledge you share with those you bring up behind you.

(From a producer with nearly 60 years in the business)

In Los Angeles or whatever city you do your business in, choose two nice restaurants and two cozy dives.  Eat at those places when you go out.  Get to know the names of the people who work there.

Any time you get to suggest a spot for lunch or dinner with a client or talent, take them to one of the four restaurants.  They’ll see you being treated with respect and it’ll impress the person you’re meeting with.

(From a producer of a wildly successful 90’s-00’s film franchise)

I once asked a producer what the best advice he could give to a mid-career guy like me was.  He asked me how I told people to “f*ck off.”

I had to confess that I didn’t know how.  He asked me to tell him, so I did.

“All wrong.  Put your hand on your stomach.  Now smile at me, and say it while you hold the “f” for about four seconds.”

(Try this at home before you read on.  Fun, right?)

“What that does is say that you caught the guy in a lie or taking advantage of you or whatever.  But you said it with warmth.  It gives the guy a place to go.  It tells him that this isn’t going to be a yelling match, and that the conversation is over… but that eventually, this might blow over or he can make it up to you later.  It’s not final.”

(From a former partner at a major agency)

I was a very small fish in a very big room when I met this guy.  Sometimes you have people hanging around you that monopolize your time, anchoring you in such a way that you miss out on the chance to circulate and say hello to everyone.

This guy (and he’s done it to me) smiles and extends his hand to say “nice talking to you,” connects with the other person’s palm, then continues to extend his arm or simply starts walking forward before breaking the handshake.  It physically drives the person away from him as he bustles off to the next hello, placing a friendly but undeniable period at the end of a conversation that’s dragging on.

(From a director)

If you just read the “throwaway handshake,” here’s some advice about how not to get one.

When meeting someone for the first time at an event or a space packed with other people, introduce yourself as if you are in transit and just wanted to take a moment to say hello.  This tells the person that you’re meeting that they won’t be seeing you for long, so they can enjoy the brief interaction to come.

Let them decide how long the conversation will be.

(From a television producer I met while still in college)

Do four favors for every one favor you ask.

2016 Booster Campaign

Hi, guys.  Last year’s Booster campaign covered the cost of hosting the REMEMBER WE’RE NOT HERE podcast archive.  This year’s tee-shirt campaign, revisiting a series of promotional stickers from the book’s first edition release in 2011, supports the launch of REALITY TV: AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO TV’S HOTTEST MARKET’s second edition by helping to fund travel and lodging for the NorthEastern stops on its short signing and lecture tour this summer.

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If you’re interested, you can check out the Booster campaign and the first of several shirt designs HERE.

We now return you to the non-panhandling portion of our regular blog.


Understanding Credits

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Prompted by a recent discussion with Andy Dehnart at, here’s the key to understanding credits in reality television:  Stop trying to make sense of them and start relying on context in relationship to the credits as a whole if you want to understand who’s who.

When you see nine Executive Producers listed on a show, a few could be network execs overseeing the show, a few could be owners or execs at the production company, and still others could be showrunners or even talent and their managers.

The difference between a Co-Executive Producer and a Supervising Producer? Sometimes none.  A show may have one or the other or both (in which case the Supervising Producer is likely supporting the Co-EP), and each title can stand without the other.  I’m aware of a few companies that don’t issue Co-EP credits for some reason, so the Supervising Producer is overseeing some part of production and/or post and reporting to an EP.

The difference between a Story Editor and a Story Producer?  Whatever the company decides to call the members of its story team.  In cases where both titles exist on a show, the Story Producer title is likely reserved for the more experienced / senior of the two.

There’s also the Senior Story Editor or Senior Story Producer title, which denotes senior members of the story team in field or post.  A Supervising Story Producer, when one is titled, oversees the story team and reports to either a Supervising Producer, Co-EP, or directly to the EP if there is no Supervising Story Producer or Co-EP on the show.

Remember that experienced writers on traditionally covered scripted shows can often negotiate a producer credit based on experience and seniority on the show. Screenwriter John August explains all of that here.

In short, it’s all negotiable.

“What’s So-and-So Really Like?”

With Betsey Johnson on DWTS 19


This year, I’m giving myself a great present for Christmas: A get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to the recurring question, “What’s (name of reality celebrity) really like?”

Ask anybody who’s met a celebrity exactly once what they think of them, and you’re going to get an absolute answer based on a tiny interaction. That moment eventually crystallizes into a summary “great guy/gal “or “total jerk/bitch” response. That assessment somehow never takes into account the way the celebrity was approached, as the teller/hero of the story, the “toucher of the garment” as it were, always bases their evaluation on how they were received in that moment. Someone I know scared the living hell out of a television actress recently, literally running after her in a parking lot to vomit praise at her. The verdict on return? “What an unfriendly bitch.”


Nine times out of ten, everything I know about someone on a reality show comes from our limited interaction in a high-pressure environment or by way of my once-removed experience of viewing source material. During production, that reality participant is competing against other people for prizes or screen time while the show is trying to extract enough authentic moments out of them to achieve a great story. Most would probably agree that sitting in the passenger seat of a race car is the worst time to get to know a race car driver, as they’re kind of preoccupied with going really fast and not hitting a wall. It’s the same for reality stars when they’re on the clock, worrying about their image, agenda and performance.

Further, we’re not hanging out in the same places when the cameras drop, so I seldom see them outside of work until the wrap party.

Yes, there have been times when someone’s really been amazing or completely shown me their ass, but those moments remain between us as part of our process or become blind-item war stories among industry friends. I’ve had one late celebrity refer to me as a “passive aggressive Hollywood mother*cker,” and a few others that thanked me at the end of the process with a nice note or a kind word. Their perception of me is formed through the lens of their own experience with how we connected in our brief interactions, and I wouldn’t say they know me any more than I know them.

So, in that spirit, my new response to the question is just going to be a generic “Great guy/gal” or “I don’t really know them.”

University Film and Video Programs

Garrett Hart, radio-tv-film
Garrett Hart, Chair of Radio-TV-Film at Cal State University Fullerton.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel on reality television at Cal State Fullerton moderated by former Paramount Network TV President (now Chair of CSUF Radio-TV-Film) Garry Hart.  It was a revelatory experience for me, as I’m not used to being asked to speak to a group — especially a group of that size, some 90 students — who are already familiar with the basics of reality television.  I’ve spoken to many college and university classes over the years, but this was some next-level stuff.

Here’s some additional context to tell you why I found it so surprising:

Shortly after Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market was released in 2011, I attended a UFVA (University Film and Video Association) conference with my publisher.  When not participating in or attending general panels, I’d always find my way to the table in the vendors room to talk to various academics who were on the prowl for new reads and textbooks.

A woman approached the table and asked what the newest releases from my publisher were. When I asked what her program focused on, she replied, “Everything.  Film and TV, soup to nuts.”

I pointed out a new book on producing for YouTube, another on web series, and my own book on reality television.  Upon hearing the phrase reality television, the woman (the dean of a media school) actually placed her hands behind her back and proudly declared, “Oh, no.  We don’t teach that.”

At the time she wouldn’t dream of teaching reality television (eww, gross, right?), it constituted about fifty percent of what was on the air.  More, depending on whose data you believed and how far into deep cable you were willing to go.  She was willing to close the door to half of the jobs in television so that her students could focus on the pure and sexy stuff –sitcoms, dramas, films and scripted new media.

What seemed even stranger to me was the fact that some schools represented at the conference had critical study/ethics courses built around reality television, but offered nothing about making the stuff.  I’m all for any sort of critical study, but if you can’t then learn how to make a better product in other courses within the same program, why bother?  It would be like paying for a standalone class in not liking 1960’s things-suspended-in-aspic cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, in which you learn nothing about making things suspended in aspic.

Be sure to sign up for Friday’s class on preparing rabbit in aspic.

Flash forward four years to last Thursday, while an engaged group at CSUF asked real questions about the industry and were willing to accept the very real answers.  They clearly knew plenty about the mundane ins-and-outs and wanted to know more.  We discussed the economics of reality television, what drives the decisions networks and production companies make, the bottom line as far as what a person could earn mid-career, all the sort of questions I almost never seem to get from students.

It’s been a thrill to know that so many colleges and universities have added Reality TV to their curricula, and that some students are electing to pursue careers in an area of entertainment they once regarded as a temporary employer they’d settle for while they worked toward a “real” career in something else.

Reality is still evolving.  Y2K-era shows like Survivor changed the landscape, but there’s much more to explore.  Attracting the brightest young creative minds, thanks to schools that celebrate the best of it rather than looking down on all of it, is key to reality’s evolution.

Thanks again, CSUF.  I had a blast.

Reality Pro Tip: B-Roll Nat Sound (Shh!)

I hear it all the time.

And by it, I mean general chatter on your b-roll.

You’re in a unique location… a big city, under a waterfall, a train station, what have you… and instead of hearing general traffic, rushing water crashing down on rocks or the horn blasts of that incoming train, the story team in post will get to hear about the great price you got on a Canon 5D for a side project you’re working on, where you’re going to have a drink after the shoot, or what you thought of the movie you watched in your hotel room last night.

Why create a need for sound design in post when you can capture amazing in-the-moment natural sound that will make the quality of the end product just a little better?

Help your work really shine.  Enjoy a quiet moment now and again and think about how great your work will not only look, but sound.

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