Realscreen hosted a discussion panel about development – what's hot and what’s not – where execs from key networks and production companies gave their insights into the development process, and what they are.
Joseph Livecchi – Noble Savages
Wes Dening – Eureka Productions
Tara Long – Entertainment One Television
Gena McCarthy – Lifetime
Jason Sarlanis - TLC
If you’re thinking about development, be distinctive and be broad. You can’t make a derivative programme that’s going to breakthrough. When we made Dating Around for Netflix, for example, we made it as a relationship show but with no interviews, shot in a very cinematic way, with an interesting use of cuts, great music but also with real human stories. It was something of a leap of faith on Netflix’s part.
Our mantra is ‘Provocative concept, credible treatment’. We’ve had a lot of success with that formula, series like Surviving R Kelly – parts 1 and 2. We’ve recently announced Surviving Jeffrey Epstein. At Lifetime, we want ideas to be like heat seeking missiles but given authentic treatment. They need outrageously relatable, credible characters. As a network, our North star when it comes to assessing new ideas is do they involve ‘provocative relationships.’
As a network, our focus on every day, salt of the earth people who are in jaw dropping circumstances. We’re always trying to find middle-class Americans going through extraordinary things.
The holy grail is low cost, high volume repeatable shows. So we’re always trying to find new and innovative ways to make those shows. We love relationship shows but it’s to be new. It can’t just be The Batchelor [with a twist.]
What is the composition of your Development teams?
Eureka started only 4 years ago. So we have 2 development people. Our approach is to have a small slate of projects we’re working on – just 3 or 4 projects we’re really passionate about – rather than 15 or so.
At TLC we’ll work with you to flesh out an idea. We just need to know there’s something there, see the tip of the iceberg so to speak. IF you can bring us a great article, or characters – we'll help you figure [the show] out.
I’m still a sucker for a great title. It’s genesis for 50% of shows I’ve made.
Absolutely. Titles are key. We’ve had great success with Dr Pimpelpopper, and are excited about anew series My Feet are Killing me. Again, it’s just a great title. You want to look at the sizzle reel and have a visceral reaction. If you’re not reacting to the pitch tape, it’s going to be boring. But My Feet – they spent just a day filming the sizzle. It just popped. And it’s a great title.
Bring me familiar surprises with great execution
When do you feel an idea is ready?
Depends on the idea. If doc – you need access, rights, director and so on. But if it’s a format it might need a bit of work. It’s always worth just picking up the phone and talking to the networks. I’ve sold more shows over the phone through talking to them.
But lots of [independent] filmmakers don’t have access.
Then pick a smart production company that does have access who you can work with. Reach out to their development team. Any good development producer is going to want you on board [with the project].
We are not that scary. We like to build relationships with new producers.
How many ideas do you get pitched each week?
I get anything from 7 to 107 pitches a week. But we have a very streamlined process. You can pitch to either our east or west coast teams. Everything then goes into our weekly development meeting. I like to see everything that comes in. Some ideas go back for more development. Some are very hot and we get working on them immediately. There’s no fixed timeline for development and greenlighting. Everything goes at its own pace.
We also have east and west coast development teams at TLC. 50% of the development work we do is done internally. We’re trying to make the best version of the show for TLC.
You used to be able to take the same sizzle reel to 5 or 6 different networks. Now you need to know the network brand, and tailor the idea and sizzle to each of them.
Timing is also crucial. You need to be attuned to macro changes in the world, changes in pop culture. You shouldn’t develop ideas only to network mandates. You need to distinctive. There are so many platforms out there now. For network execs [who are considering and commissioning your idea] they need shows that break out. Titles are important: you want a distinctive idea that is easily communicated.
You may get viewers to tune in based on the title, but a show needs heart. It needs authenticity to keep them watching. Viewers are not going to stick around for several seasons if there are shallow characters. One off shock docs are in the past. Your development process needs to deep stress-test [an ideas sustainability.]
Holey Moley [a comedy game show described as mini-golf meets Ninja Warrior] taps into our collective nostalgia, it’s part of our pop culture.
There are big opportunities for producers from outside the US. It’s helpful if the show is up and running elsewhere, for example Ex on the Beach made by British indie Whizz Kid.
What are the tired genres that people should avoid?
We’re steering away from replica docu soaps. Also performance shows like Dance Moms which have defined us to some extent. Though, having said that I’ve just seen an amazing performance sizzle …
Things with too many bells and whistles, or too scripted. What we want is ideas with a simple focus, great characters and great stories. Don’t fixate too much on getting the graphics packages right and so when pitching.