All’s Well That Ends Well

Unscripted Hitmakers 2012 - full panel

April 26, 2012. A day that will live in infamy. Hundreds of TV movers and shakers bravely entered the Beverly Hilton for the annual HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers luncheon, not realizing what lay ahead…

HRTS Executive Director, Dave Ferrara introduced veteran host Tom Bergeron (“Dancing With The Stars”), who moderated an upbeat, freewheeling discussion with hitmakers Mike Fleiss (“The Bachelor”), Conrad Green (“Dancing with the Stars”), Kris Jenner (“Keeping Up with the Kardashians”), Brent Montgomery (“Pawn Stars”), Eli Holzman (“Undercover Boss”) and Bertram van Munster (“The Amazing Race”).

Tom Bergeron on the panel of the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers 2012

Tom Bergeron

Bergeron began with the big picture, noting that “in the history of television every genre has had a lifespan”, going on to ask the panel what they think the current lifespan of reality television is and where we are in that life cycle. Van Munster said that “we’ve come a long way, we’ve tried many things and overall I think we’ve set a very high standard with good storytelling and good casting and we’ve become a very viable business”.

Conrad Green

Conrad Green

Green discussed the fact that while the business overall is solid, ratings are down for many top reality shows such as AMERICAN IDOL and DANCING WITH THE STARS. This is in part because there are so many reality shows on TV today and “they require an enormous amount of audience devotion, almost everyone seems to be doing two hour performance shows followed by a results show”. This leads to a feeling of oversaturation, which is problematic since these shows “rely on feeling like something special, on being seen as a treat” and it feels a lot less like a treat if you watch many shows of the same type.

Montgomery agreed with the panel’s consensus that unscripted is doing well, also pointing out that “the strength of unscripted is how reactive it can be, how quick”, since when people are buying second homes, house flipping shows work, when you have tougher economic times and people struggling, shows like UNDERCOVER BOSS and SHARK TANK become timely.

Kris Jenner on the panel of the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers 2012

Kris Jenner

Bergeron next addressed Jenner, whose show is based on her home life. He mentioned a Huffington Post story about a photo that Jenner had tweeted, a photo that showed her daughter Kim asleep, Bergeron going on to ask if there is a line to be drawn and if so, where is it? Jenner said that “there’s a lot of controversy over whether we use scripts, which we don’t, we have nothing scripted” and so “the lines aren’t drawn in the sand, there isn’t something that we necessarily won’t do, except for bathroom shots”.

On the topic of real versus planned, Bergeron asked Fleiss if there’s a script for THE BACHELOR and he replied that there isn’t, since “once you start going down that path it’s really treacherous because the storytelling just erodes”, getting a big laugh when he added that they don’t need scripts since “we get enough weird stuff that comes out of the people naturally”.

Eli Holzman on the panel of the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers 2012

Eli Holzman

With UNDERCOVER BOSS, does the boss ever have his cover blown and if so, what do you about it? Holzman said that “from time to time, people spot the boss and we think that’s good TV so we tend to include it”. In terms of coming attractions, Holzman added that “it’s enormously challenging and this year, look forward to some better wigs”.

So what is the importance of casting and in general, how do you keep shows fresh season after season?
Green said that “the key for us is always trying to work out ‘what is the feel of this particular cast?’, we need to make each season have a slightly different feel to it”. Montgomery’s show focuses on a man who works alongside his father and his son, and so “the guys have this natural-born chemistry, with three generations, and the audience knows them better”. Van Munster pointed out that he is doing Season 21 now and “a lot of the ideas come from my life on the road, and all the things that you see in the show are things that I have seen at some point”, adding that “the bottom line is that it all comes from casting, I can go to the Himalayas and go to Africa all I want but if I don’t have a good cast, I’ve got nothing”. As for ‘casting’ her family, Jenner said “I think where we’re lucky is that there’s so many of us and we’re living our lives right out there in front of everybody and so there’s something that evolves naturally all the time, like if somebody gets married – even if it’s only for 72 days”.

Brent Montgomery on the panel of the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers 2012

Brent Montgomery

The discussion rolled, the quips flew, the laughs echoed and then, out of nowhere….flashing lights and squealing klaxons……the Beverly Hilton was on fire(!) or so it seemed. In the midst of all the uncertainty, Bergeron didn’t miss a beat, immediately quipping “we’ve found the newest hot prospect”. Jenner sensed an opportunity for ratings gold, exclaiming “where’s my crew, this is amazing!” Securing this day as one that shall live in infamy, Bergeron got a huge laugh when he quipped “you realize, if we all burn to the ground, what a story this is gonna be: ‘idiot reality people don’t leave burning building’”.

The alarm having turned out to be false, Bergeron asked the panelists about some of their favorite experiences. Van Munster recounted an episode they shot in Switzerland that resulted in “50 pound cheeses bouncing down a hill at 35 miles an hour”, saying “it was one of my proudest moments”. Holzman said “all of them at one point or another”, adding that one of his most interesting experiences was doing PROJECT GREENLIGHT with Miramax, since “the joke was that if you won you made a movie for Miramax and if you lost you had to make two movies”. Jenner said that “my favorite episode still has to be Khloe and Lamar’s wedding, which we turned into a 27-hour special”, leading Bergeron to quip “it’s still going on right now”.

Bertram van Munster on the panel of the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers 2012

Bertram van Munster

As hitmakers, what shows they do personally like to watch? Green likes cable dramas, especially BREAKING BAD, Montgomery likes EASTBOUND AND DOWN and STORAGE WARS, and Jenner confessed to loving THE BACHELOR as well as DANCING WITH THE STARS.

With unscripted growing into such a massive presence in the media space, do these shows take jobs away from actors? Green scoffed at the idea, saying that “it’s a fantasy that we’re taking jobs from actors, it’s crazy”, and the proof is in the pudding since “the sheer quantity and quality of drama on TV now compared to the past makes that a nonsense argument”. Green concluded that “if anything we’re replacing game shows in the schedule, as compared to 20 years ago”. Jenner concurred, adding that everyone “has a strong work ethic and our show employs hundreds of people”, so if anything they are creating jobs not taking them away.

Mike Fleiss on the panel of the HRTS Unscripted Hitmakers 2012

Mike Fleiss

In closing, Bergeron asked the panel for the keys to success in unscripted. Fleiss and Holzman said that work ethic is the key, that you know your show won’t stop at 6PM on a Friday afternoon and that you may be on the road quite a bit. Montgomery said that they key is to take the time to work in production, to learn your craft before becoming a showrunner. Van Munster said that passion is the main ingredient in success, Jenner striking a similar chord by saying that you’ll do well if you “follow your heart and your instincts”.

In the end, unscripted is not only surviving it is thriving and future prospects are bright. Not only that, but the Beverly Hilton managed to avoid burning itself to the ground and so not one person got reduced to a smoldering heap of ash – always a plus. All’s well that ends well.

Photos by Chyna Photography

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