How Do I Sell My Own Reality Tv Show?
Author: DMA/Donna Michelle Anderson
How do you sell your own reality TV show? If you're like most people who work in reality TV, you sell a show by working for several years in reality television, amassing good credits and production experience, building strong relationships with production companies, networks and vendors, running someone else's shows for trench education, then pitching your concepts and your solid reputation to make your first sale(s).
If you're like most people who don't work in reality TV, you sell a show by coming up with an entertaining concept and find a personal "in" to a network exec or a production company where you can pitch. If a network exec likes the idea, s/he will partner you with a production company or show runner s/he already knows and trusts, and they will execute your concept. You will turn all of the control of your show, as well as most of whatever initial fees come in, over to the show runner or production company.
The same process happens if you approach a production company yourself to bring your idea to a network for you. Your attorney will work with the production companies to hammer out a "deal memo" that spells out what involvement, if any, you will have in the show. The company will do their best to remove you from any control over the process...because you have no idea how to run a television show. They also will take most of the money involved...because you are bringing nothing to the table but an idea that they will have to do all of the work to develop then execute, as well as use their hard-earned contacts to sell. In their eyes, you are bringing nothing to the table.
If you are still reading this after that stunning statement, you are ready for the road ahead as you try to pitch a show. You understand now how the industry will perceive you, and you accept your own limitations as someone who knows nothing about making a show but has an entertaining spin on a popular concept. You also understand, because I'm about to tell you, that you are not going to become rich when the show is sold.
Don't confuse non-fiction TV with selling a movie or a sit-com or drama. "Back-end" and "created-by" fees and "residuals" are rare in this world. On your very first sale, be ready for some serious compromise if all you have is an idea. Your attorney is going to work hard enough just to keep you from being removed from the show entirely.
I'm going to write that again. YOUR ATTORNEY IS GOING TO WORK HARD ENOUGH JUST TO KEEP YOU FROM BEING REMOVED FROM THE SHOW ENTIRELY.
So how exactly do you sell your own show?
The smart way is to work in the biz and know that you are selling yourself and your experience and your reputation and your contacts far more than any concept itself. In fact, networks who have come to know you will call you and ask you to do a show for them! And you will be able control the production process and make the fees from it, because you've learned and earned you way into that position. Your agent is your best friend here because s/he is pitching you non-stop to the nets, setting up meet-and-greets with execs and keeping you up-to-date on how the net calls for content are shifting (and they always are shifting).
The fast way is to have a terrific concept and partner with someone else who can get it executed. You will have researched similar shows, checked out imdb.com for company and network information and approached the right people to match your genre and audience. If all goes well, you, indeed, will have sold a show, but often with limited involvement or reward! Your attorney will be your best friend here because s/he will need to be determined and creative to keep you a part of the process after the sale.
The back-door way is to know a person or property (like a popular book) that people want a piece of, develop a show with them attached to it, and have a written ""option"" that binds them to any sale. This is where having Paris Hilton as a close friend actually is a good thing. A hypothetical: Yes, she stole your boyfriend, but she felt so bad that she signed an option agreement allowing you to shop a makeover show with her as the host. Pretty much anyone will talk to you now, and you'll have a lot more power keeping yourself attached since you are, at last, bringing something bankable to the table!
Whatever way you try to sell your show, remember, as always, to do an "entitlement" check before you start the process. If you are not Tyra Banks, do not expect to get a deal like Tyra Banks. If your talent is not Donald Trump, don't expect to get a budget like Donald Trump's. And if you have never run a television show (I didn't say never written, produced, edited or shot, I said RUN), then don't expect to run even your own. Not the first season, at least.
And please don't go into reality TV to get rich. (Where are all of these Discovery Health- and Food Network-producing millionaires people think they're joining the ranks of?) If you want to get rich, please go back for your MBA and head to Wall Street and build and protect your stock options like everyone else does. There's way more chance you'll get a return on your investment - and in a far shorter period of time! If you want to get rich quickly, with minimal effort, keep buying scratchers and hope for the best. But if you really want to make reality TV, while there's no money at the start in this world, like almost everything else, working hard in this business ultimately has its own personal, professional and, yes, financial rewards. Plus sometimes, you get to make people eat bugs.
About the Author
DMA is a former film story analyst, international runway model and stage performer who is now the executive producer of a new media and reality TV production company in Los Angeles. Learn more about how to sell a reality show from her book, "The Show Starter Reality TV Made Simple System: Ten Steps to Creating and Pitching a Sellable Reality Show." She also offers reality production instruction seminars through her company's Show Starter services.
For DMA's national speaking schedule and more insider resources for breaking into Hollywood, please visit Planet DMA.