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The Hollywood Radio & Television Society (HRTS) presented its annual "Unscripted Hitmakers" luncheon earlier today at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. In attendance to deliver a 'dose of reality' were some of the most successful and prolific reality television producers in the business today - Thom Beers ("Deadliest Catch"), Stephen Lambert ("Undercover Boss"), Nigel Lythgoe ("American Idol" "So You Think You Can Dance"), JD Roth ("The Biggest Loser") and Sally Ann Salsano ("Jersey Shore"). While their shows often vary in subject matter, demographic appeal and tone, the panel's moderator, Larry King, hit on some very interesting points they could all relate to during the conversation. Our Jim Halterman was in attendance at the luncheon and filed the following.
1:02 PM - HRTS President (and Lionsgate Television Group President) Kevin Beggs kicks off the panel by announcing that despite the current economic state, the HRTS currently has its highest number of members and corporate sponsors. Kevin next introduces an intro of clips of today's esteemed panel and their influential reality programming.
1:10 PM - Kevin introduces the attendees for today's "Unscripted Hitmakers" panel - Thom Beers! Stephen Lambert! Nigel Lythgoe! JD Roth! Sally Ann Salsano! And the moderator is Mr. Larry King himself.
1:14 PM - "What ingredient makes a good reality show?" asks Larry. Thom replies, "Finding real interesting characters" is key and Nigel adds, "I'm also looking to try to appeal to an entire family. With the proliferation of televisions around the household you rarely bring people together... so I constantly try to create entertainment that will attract an entire family to bring together to watch."
1:16 PM - Nigel talks about the reinvigoration of "American Idol" with the new panel of judges this season. He says there's a big different in the last 10 years from Simon saying 'You go to a singing teacher? Then I suggest you sue your singing teacher cause you're not a good singer' to the warmth that contestants are getting from new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.
1:17 PM - JD says that the ingredient for his show is hope. 'Hope is such a general theme in life that hope leads people to battle and hope changes people's lives. If you can give someone who's coming onto your show the hope that they can change... that hope is what people tune in to watch because maybe they're hoping for certain changes in their life, too."
1:19 PM - Sally Ann says that casting is key but you also need to be fearless and have trust. "Your cast needs to be fearless and they need to say 'I'm here, I'm going to do it and I'm going to go for it.'" She says that this also goes for the producers and the networks. "I think if your cast and you have a mutual respect for each other, in the end everyone feels safe and you just go for it." (Sally also drops the first F bomb of the panel and Larry clocks it at 11 minutes into the panel)
1:22 PM - Larry asks if "Deadliest Catch" was hurt by the loss of Captain Phil. Thom says, "No, because there were seven main characters... Captain Phil was a real loss but his sons have filled that void." Thom says the first four minutes of tonight's "Deadliest Catch" are the best television he's ever made. "After that it goes downhill," he jokes.
1:23 PM - Sally Ann on why "Jersey Shore" is a success: "The thing that I love about that cast... those kids will kill each other but if one other person says one thing about them, that's it. They truly are a family and I think that's what a lot of the success is." She admits that it wasn't an easy sell in the beginning.
1:24 PM - "I think it's easy to have a hit. All you need to do is get your first show on immediately after the Super Bowl," says Stephen on the success of "Undercover Boss." He also thinks the success lies in the notion that a lot of ordinary people work hard in their jobs and are not appreciated but on the show you see people get thanked.
1:27 PM - Larry asks Nigel if the appeal of "Idol" is wanting to see people succeed or do we want that guy to not hit the note? Nigel replies he thinks we all root for them. Despite all the bad things in the world, everyone wants to know why Pia got booted off the show! "It's the social glue where everyone wants to be talking about it." Larry also asks why they don't reveal the vote numbers and Nigel cites Carrie Underwood's season when she won every single week. If the votes would be revealed every week, Nigel says, "the show's over. There's no jeopardy if you watch [the same] someone win every week."
1:31 PM - 'I think that every single time you're in a restaurant, in a movie theater, driving in your car... that's when you come up with your shows," says Sally Ann on where her show ideas come from.
1:32 PM - Larry asks the panel about their shows that have failed. Thom says that he's having a challenge right now with the new Spike reality series, "Coal." He says that the audience for Spike is "not getting there yet... they draw younger men and they're trying to skew to an older male audience but they don't have the pedigree. There's no older males watching that network so it's struggling." Nigel mentions "Ice Warriors," which was essentially gladiators on ice.
1:35 PM - Larry asks, "Can you save a failing show?" Sally Ann responds by saying "You can't do it alone." She says marketing and press need to get behind it but sometimes "it is what it is. Sometimes your favorite shows are the ones that don't work." Thom jokes that nobody on the panel blames the show itself for not working and maybe it's the fault of the 'fucking audience!' Laughs all around.
1:39 PM - JD praises Nigel for what he's doing on "Idol" this year and making it more 'Feel Good Television' and he believes more people are moving in that direction.
1:40 PM - Larry asks Nigel what he thinks of the upcoming NBC singing competition "The Voice," where judges will pick the best singers without seeing them. "After you choose your people," he says, "you know what they look like and it's straight mentoring." He does take a shot at Susan Boyle by referring to her as "Shrek's older sister." Ouch. In the end, he adds, it's always about the talent more than anything else. "If you can get the public to support the talent, you're going to have a successful show."
1:43 PM - Asked about a show that the panelists are surprised are successes and Sally Ann cites "Sister Wives," the polygamy reality show on TLC. The show pisses her off because the wives' husband, who she calls a 'douche bag,' drives a nicer car than the wives. However, she admits happily, "I love that show!"
1:45 PM - Nigel loves Fox's "House" because it's a modern-day Sherlock Holmes mystery and he also loves Stephen's "Undercover Boss." He also admits he didn't think "Dancing With The Stars" or "So You Think You Can Dance" would be successes due to the dance theme of both shows. Thom says he wishes he'd made "Undercover Boss" and calls it "a brilliant idea." JD says he's surprised "Dancing With The Stars" and "Jersey Shore" became successes.
1:50 PM - Larry asks if the panelists concerned about the power of the Internet? Nigel says he's not and sees it as another marketplace.
1:53 PM - Larry wants to know what the panelists are worried about overall. Sally says, "So many different brands are trying to launch and be another version of that and I think it dilutes everything on some level. I think as a network and as a producer, stay true to what you believe in... and stay true to your brand." Stephen is worried about money and there being less of it as the audience fragments more.
1:56 PM - In regards to product integration and sponsorship, Nigel worries that it will envelope our television programs and eventually swallow the programs. JD worries about a contestant going too far and hurting themselves physically and, in turn, hurting the genre. Thom cites that four men have died during his shows - three of them during sleep and not doing the job focused on the show. "The most dangerous jobs in the world and they died in their sleep."
1:58 PM - That's a wrap from today's HRTS panel with the "Unscripted Hitmakers." For more on the HRTS and their events, visit www.HRTS.org.