How do you pitch a reality show?
That’s an easy one: You don’t!
Your chances of getting a show on the air are as slim as those of finding Willie Wonka’s golden ticket in your mail or chomping down on the Hope Diamond in your lo mein.
Oh sure, once in a blue moon an unsolicited pitch can lead to something—but when was the last time you saw a blue moon except for the SMURF movie? I’ve even done pitches with big people—household names, I swear–who actually had development deals with networks, and they went nowhere faster than a BUCKY LARSON sequel!
The reality about reality shows—and I’m talking about those conflict-laden screechfests on other channels–is that pitching them from outside the playing field is like trying to throw a basketball into a hoop three blocks away.
Of course that doesn’t stop people from thinking you just shoot an email to a programming head and start preparing your Emmy speech. Everywhere I go, people are telling me about their reality show pitches—series about dating mishaps, show biz dreams, and various ethnic groups eking it out in extraordinary locales. Some of them are actually good ideas, but so what? A variety show with me MCing an array of jugglers and impressionists is an amazing idea, but that doesn’t mean anyone will get back to me about it.
Everyone assumes that since there are so many shows on these days, it must be a breeze to get your own luminous self on the tube. And since most of those reality shows stop at nothing in their attempts to grab an audience, everyone thinks you can just throw the entertainment equivalent of body waste at the screen and that’s all it takes.
But the shows depend on specific and appealing premises. They require conflict that keeps evolving so the changing relationships keep the viewers glued as loyalties shift. And the personalities on the show must have star appeal so their bouts of rage come off believable and you follow them even as they behaviorally spiral. Most of all, you, the producer, need an in or a connection—or best of all, a contract!
I don’t want to discourage people from pitching their dream projects. Go ahead and give it a whirl, otherwise you might feel like you let an opportunity drop and you’ll hate yourself forever. But the best way to get a reality show going is to live a messy, conflicted life with lots of screaming and carrying on, and just wait till they call you. They will.