Considerations for Developing a Reality TV Concept

1) How unique is your concept?

Although many TV shows have been created by simply copying another show and changing the cast, you want your show to stand out from among the others.  If you want to do a ghost hunting show, research how many variations of the Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventurers concept has been done already.  Be specific.  What does your cast do that others haven’t done yet?

2) Does your show set a trend or just follow one?

Networks talk all the time about wanting a show that breaks the mold.  The executives pride themselves on being creative and knowing their audience, but it’s shocking how infrequently they deviate from tried and tested concepts.  Make sure you know the trends that have been successful in the industry and whether you’re at the beginning or tail end of a craze. Get to know rating systems and the “demo” numbers that networks focus on. and are great websites for free daily ratings of the top shows.  Doing your homework shows your professionalism.

3) What are you bringing to the table?

What’s stopping them from taking your idea and running with it without you?  If your idea is a show that follows the work of city bus drivers, have you researched bus companies to see if there’s any that will even want to participate?  Are you a bus driver or do you know bus drivers with dynamic personalities that would be good for the show?  Do you have access to a knowledge base of stories, information, or locations that make you valuable to the production?  Your best position will be one where they can’t do a show as good as they want without the access that you have.

4) Have you already done the legwork?

One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they come up with a general idea and then anticipate the production company will do all of the work, yet they still expect to be compensated.  Having the initial idea is only the beginning.  More than likely, if they have to do the major share of development they won’t even bother pursuing it.  That sounds lazy, but put yourself in their position and see how much more attractive a concept is when it’s delivered on a silver platter.  The more you’ve prepared with researching the idea, finding organizations and talent, and getting access, the more likely they’ll be to listen.

5) Does your concept fit the budget and format of the average reality show?

Most reality TV shows cost about $150,000 to $300,000 per episode.  They might have even more than that to work with, but they first need a successful season or two to be a proven concept.  Anything that involves competitions, live broadcasting, obtaining rights to film or music, or extensive foreign travel is going to be a tougher sell.  Each episode typically goes through several back and forth outlines and approvals with the network.  That can take several months from preproduction to final air, so unless they handle current news stories, most networks aren’t capable of producing shows that have a crucial time element like TMZ.  You should also never plan on selling a show based on how many specific sponsors will want to buy commercial air time or what alternate sources of revenue might come from audience participation in website downloads, texting to vote in live competitions, etc.  Let the network worry about finding sponsors.  You’re trying to sell a TV show, not doing promotion for a rock band.  They won’t even consider other revenue streams until the show proves to be a success, so focus on selling them a show because of its entertainment value.

6) Is your show more concept or personality driven?

A lot of attention should be devoted to finding a unique concept, but don’t underestimate the importance of having interesting talent.  Sometimes the characters are so dynamic and captivating that just about any show could be developed around them.  Unless the show doesn’t involve a regular host, modern reality shows often rely heavily on their talent.  In general, talent should be a little larger than life in their energy, delivery, and opinions.  Never forget, entertainment is king.  Even if your show is educational in nature, it first has to be entertaining or no one will watch it.