Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television articleFlat: "Reality is cheap. An hour-long drama can sell to the networks for about $2 million; a half-hour sitcom runs $1.3 million. Only proven reality successes like Survivor or The Apprentice command fees that high.

A basic one-hour broadcast-network reality show costs $750,000-$800,000. Low-end cable shows can cost as little as $100,000-$200,000. (When Trading Spaces was a top-rated show, TLC made it for $90,000 per episode.) A daily half-hour syndicated reality series can cost as little as $50,000 per episode.

The concept of a “reality writer” seems like an oxymoron. The characters, after all, are real people who generate most of their own dialog. But that doesn't mean writers aren't called on to influence the drama, guide film crews and even feed lines to contestants.

Instead of a sitcom writers' room, reality shows have a “story department.” At the low end is a logger, someone who reviews raw video and takes notes of interesting scenes. At the high end might be a supervising story producer, who runs a staff of five or 10.

In the middle are story editors or story producers. On a show like CBS' Big Brother, a story editor might review hundreds of hours of tape looking for characters and story arcs. On another, such as Survivor, story editors are on-site, interviewing contestants and trying to draw out specific lines of dialog.

The level of story editors' and writers' influence depends on the format of the show. Brian McCarthy has worked in two major reality genres: competitions and v�rit�style. At Fear Factor, the arc of each episode was dictated primarily by the stunts of the week. The hard part, he says, was establishing the six contestants as characters, giving them a little flavor."

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