If you think the Kardashians are worthless television personalities, here’s a reality check: they’re worth every penny — at least according to Bunim/Murray Productions CEO and chairman Gil Goldschein who spoke on the topic of talent issues at reality TV conference RealScreen West in Santa Monica, Calif. on Wednesday.
Goldschein was part of the “Making It To Season 2 and Beyond” panel at the annual entertainment summit where he revealed he had no idea that “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” would be a hit when the pitch came through the production company’s doors years ago. Bunim/Murray is also behind Caitlyn Jenner’s upcoming summer docuseries.
“That family has continued to increase their payday season to season,” Goldschein admitted, giving kudos to the Kardashian/Jenner clan who recently signed a three-season extension deal with E! for a reported $20 million. When it come to internal talent issues, the exec says there are none for the famous family. “They work it. They get it. Part of the success is their openness.”
However, not every unscripted series is so lucky with talent, putting networks into a tough spot of deciding whether the show can go on without a star, or if its best to pull the plug on the series entirely — or is the talent valuable enough for nets and producers to give into demands?
In simpler terms, “once talent becomes indispensable, they become irrational,” said moderator Brant Pinvidic, CCO of 3 Ball Entertainment.
“Every time you have a talent show, it gets more and more difficult. Is it sustainable?” posed Goldschein, bringing up Fox’s hit Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie socialite series “The Simple Life,” which following a network switch from Fox to E! after Season 3, was ultimately pulled after a total of five seasons in 2007.
“That show could have gone on forever and ever, but we had talent issues,” Goldschein said. With a laugh, he added, “For some, five weeks of work in a given year was too much.”
On the other hand, many times talent is worth all the bang for their buck. Take Discovery Channel’s Mike Rowe who hosted eight seasons of “Dirty Jobs,” for example.
“You don’t have ‘Dirty Jobs’ without Mike Rowe,” said Gena McCarthy, SVP of programming for FYI. “We valued him. In my book, he earned his salary. Talk about dirty jobs — he was climbing through sewers!” In jest, she was sure to mention, “He reminded me of that every week.”
Another key player brought up at the panel as an indispensable series star was Carson Kressley who helmed Bravo’s Fab Five on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
Panelist Mona Scott-Young, CEO of Monami Entertainment, which is behind VH1’s hit “Love & Hip Hop” franchise, explained that even when talent is worth high demands, she appreciates when networks play hardball. “Sometimes it’s a lot easier for me to manage my talent, if they don’t give in. Sometimes I push back,” she said of “feeding the monster.”
And sometimes, shows can in fact survive with letting cast members go with just a simple compromise.
“There isn’t a ‘Dance Moms’ without Abby Lee Miller,” said McCarthy, admitting that “some of the moms aren’t as integral.”
Her solution to balance the budget, while keeping viewers invested in a returning series? “No full-frontal face lifts.”