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TV arm tests scripted waters

Relativity has big plans for the small screen

Ryan Kavanaugh’s reputation for being an enthusiastic risk taker has been a rallying point for television producers eager to work with him.

“If you are in the mood to roll up your sleeves and take a risk, there’s no better partner than Ryan,” says RelativityReal CEO Tom Forman. “Wild West, out-of-the-box thinking is what appeals to Ryan.”

In 2008, Relativity launched the television reality/alternative programming arm RelativityReal with Forman, an Emmy-winning documentary and reality show producer (“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”). In less than three years, the company has managed to get six series on the air, including “Police Woman of Broward County” for TLC, “Coming Home” for Lifetime and “The Great Food Truck Race” for Food Network, and has eight in production. More than 40 additional series, pilots and specials have been in the works since the company started 30 months ago.

Kavanaugh’s company has risen as one of the few movie production outfits that have weathered the recession when financing has dried up and profits have plummeted, says Derek Baine, senior analyst for SNL Kagan. Unlike frontloaded movie profits, a hit TV show can have a long run with revenue streaming in for many years.

“There is big opportunity for a person who has a mind to go into television,” Baine says. “(Kavanaugh) has done well in the movies and he should be able to leverage the way he’s made money in movies with television.”

Forman opted to go into business with Kavanaugh because he wanted to make character-driven programs for broadcast and cable TV with a company that could help realize his vision.

“I sat down with Ryan and talked about his thoughts about the TV space,” Forman recalls. “They were killing it in film. They couldn’t be more successful. And he wanted to duplicate that in TV.”

The company explored different strategies when the decision was made to get into the TV business. Relativity looked at deficit financing, their business model on the theatrical side, to acquisitions of series. Forman says ultimately the decision was made to create a joint venture that would involve building their own one-stop shop: Pitch. Sell. Produce.

The production company hit the ground running, with Forman bringing in a staff that quickly began doing business and acting on ideas that had been percolating in his head for years.

“It was a wild ride. We were out pitching before the phones were installed and getting offers before getting email addresses,” Forman says. “We charged into cable, and sold our first series, ‘Police Women,’ to TLC right away. The company has only been around for two and a half years, and yet ‘Police Women’ is already in its sixth cycle.”

Charging out with big-budget scripted shows didn’t make sense to Forman and Kavanaugh, although the company now is testing the scripted waters with a slate of sitcoms, including a sketch comedy show thrown into the mix.

“Unscripted is always in the corporate DNA because the model works for us,” Forman says. “Scripted needs to make sense to us. Others can do the big-budget hospital dramas. We play to what we know works and we’re proving we can be equally strong in scripted.”

The company also signed development deals with a diverse group of producers: Ellen Rakieten (Ellen Rakieten Entertainment), Jay Blumenfield and Tony Marsh (The Jay & Tony Show), actress-producer Ashley Tisdale (Blondie Girl Productions) and thesp-producer Wilmer Valderrama (WV Enterprises).

Multiple Emmy-winner Rakieten, who spent more than two decades with Harpo Prods. and produces NBC’s “The Marriage Ref” with Jerry Seinfeld, signed an exclusive overall multi-year deal with RelativityReal a year ago. She’s working on a number of projects centering on such talents as Trisha Yearwood, Cat Deeley, Randy Jackson, Ali Landry and Alison Sweeney.

After Rakieten decided to split with Harpo to form her own company, she had quite a few people interested in going into business with her. She chose Kavanaugh because of his business philosophy.

“He’s a genius visionary with energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to be creative without parameters,” she says. “He believes in his people and nobody is second-guessing what you are doing. He’s the consummate entrepreneur.”

Rakieten says she respects that he, like Winfrey, created a whole business from scratch with no Hollywood experience under his belt.

“His sense of fun is infectious, but he works hard,” Rakieten says. “In the face of many skeptics, this guy continues to persevere and doesn’t let that noise get in his way. Ryan’s fueled by passion at this point. He doesn’t have a lot to prove.”

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