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Real Power – Unscripted Hitmakers Luncheon Recap

HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers panel

American Idol. The Biggest Loser. Deadliest Catch. Undercover Boss. Jersey Shore. Iconic characters spring forth from these shows, all of which are certifiable hits. Hits of course do not pop out of the ground but are developed, nurtured and otherwise created by hitmakers.

April 12, 2011. Beverly Hilton. Hundreds of TV movers and shakers gathered together for the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers luncheon. In his opening remarks, HRTS President Kevin Beggs announced that our group has reached a pinnacle of success with an historic-high 1300 members. By way of comparison, HRTS membership in 2006 was around 700 so it has nearly doubled in size in only five years.

Larry King moderates the Unscripte Hitmakers luncheon at HRTS

Larry King

Beggs introduced the inimitable Larry King, who moderated a candid, freewheeling discussion with hitmakers Thom Beers (“Deadliest Catch”), Stephen Lambert (“Undercover Boss”), Nigel Lythgoe (“American Idol”), J.D. Roth (“The Biggest Loser”) and Sally Ann Salsano (“Jersey Shore”).

Thom Beers at the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers luncheon

Thom Beers

Start at the beginning: King asked what ingredient makes a good reality show and Beers said that it’s casting, that the key is in “finding real interesting characters”. Lambert agreed on the importance of casting, on the need to find people who can behave naturally in front of a camera. Lythgoe said “I’m looking for performers”, adding that he tries to cast people and make shows that will bring everyone together to watch since his target demographic is “family, from zero to a hundred”. For Roth, the key “ingredient for the shows that we make is hope”, he focuses on transformational, aspirational characters and stories. Salsano doesn’t hold back, relating that “I think it needs to be fearless and you need to have trust”. Beers proclaimed his love for her answer by saying “that was fuckin’ impressive”, King adding “no shit”.

Sally Ann Salsano at the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers

Sally Ann Salsano

What makes your particular show a success? For Salsano it’s when “people go out there and do what they do and don’t apologize for it”. As crazy as things can get on “Jersey Shore”, the castmembers really are a family and so part of the show’s success is that “in the end there’s a ton of heart and that’s what comes across”. Self-deprecating British humor was in full flower when Lambert credited his show’s success to having premiered right after the Super Bowl with its 106 million viewers. Fundamentally though, “Undercover Boss” works since viewers can relate to the notion that a lot of ordinary people work hard in their jobs but are not appreciated and on the show you see these folks get thanked.

Nigel Lythgoe at the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers luncheon

Nigel Lythgoe

As for the continuing dominance of American Idol, Lythgoe said that it isn’t so much viewers rooting for someone to fail as it is rooting for them to succeed, to become a star and live the dream. This identifiable, aspirational aspect turns Idol into “a social glue, where everyone wants to be talking about it”.

Even hitmakers miss now and again, King asking the panel about their bombs and what they learned from them. Lythgoe’s bomb was “Ice Warriors, it was gladiators on ice”. Salsano flatlined with “Texas Quints”, a show about multiple children that didn’t do nearly as well as “Jon and Kate Plus 8” since “our couple got along” and people prefer to see drama, conflict. Beers drew big laughs when he quipped “I love the fact that none of us blame our show!”, since of course “the shows were awesome, it’s the fuckin’ audience!”

J.D. Roth at the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers luncheon

J.D. Roth

Which reality hits do the hitmakers like to watch? Roth said that when his remote control lands on “Hoarders” his finger won’t move to change the channel. Salsano loves “Storage Wars”, another of Beers’ shows, which she described as “’Let’s Make A Deal’ for lunatics”.  She added that she also loves “Sister Wives”, since “I watch that show, I scream at the TV, I’m so pissed off I’m not producing it, it makes me insane”. Lythgoe and Beers both love “Undercover Boss”, Beers not ashamed to admit that “the concept of it is brilliant, I wish I had made that show”.

Stephen Lambert at the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers luncheon

Stephen Lambert

Is the Internet friend or foe? Beers said that his job is to create compelling content, that the network executives will always find ways to distribute and monetize it. Lythgoe looks forward to an exciting future since there are “some remarkable things on the Internet, really entertaining and inspirational”. Salsano commented on how she has more creative freedom on cable than she might have on broadcast and how she feels creators will be able to take even more risks online. Lambert also sees the Net as a huge plus, since “the biggest use of Twitter is people talking about TV shows”, adding that this usage counters the time-shifting trend since people want to watch shows live and talk about them in real-time.

In the end, what is the continuing attraction of Reality TV? It’s the characters, the fact that we are them and they are us, they’re real people leading real lives and that is real power.

(Photos by Chyna Photography)

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