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Self-Shot & Meta Reality TV Trends are Trumped by Authentic Content

With so much noise in the unscripted space, producers, moreso than ever, are working to diversify content — in doing so, the self-shot and meta-trend has made a big push into reality television.

CBS’ summer series “The Briefcase” is one of many shows displaying awareness for production, putting exec producer Dave Broome onscreen. This week’s episode of “The Bachelorette” had a producer fighting with a contestant, while the leading lady walked out of her closed-set confessional interview to address the suitor’s situation. In the past, a behind-the-scenes blow-up like this may have been cut differently, but today, those revealing moments are seen as television gold.

Though the format change has had a blatant presence recently, RealScreen West bigwigs on the “Trendwatch: Keeping It Real” panel, held Wednesday in Santa Monica, say meta practices are making a splash because of heightened authenticity.

“It really doesn’t matter, the techniques. It comes back to story,” said Renegade 83’s David Garfinkle, who exec produces unconventional dating show “Naked and Afraid,” and early in the unscripted days, changed the rules of reality television with “Blind Date.” He added, “Self-shot or whatever, what’s the story?”

Further proving his point that format is second to storytelling, Garfinkle gave a nod to Caitlyn Jenner’s Diane Sawyer interview, which aired to more than 17 million viewers before she publicly began referring to herself as a woman. “To me, the most authentic story to America is Bruce Jenner,” he said. “It’s just two cameras with lights, and he’s telling this incredibly real story and it’s amazing.”

To overwhelming agreement from his fellow panelists, Garfinkle also mentioned that moment in “The Jinx” when Robert Durst admits to murder, not realizing his mic was still on. Pointing out that format or elements such as music and splashy sets don’t matter when there’s a compelling story to be told, Sharon Scott of NBC Peacock Productions made the case that less is more. “It’s sort of like a horror movie,” she said of watching raw footage.

“The techniques have definitely changed,” Paul Cabana of History & H2 agreed, mentioning that despite changes, the one factor that has remained the same is letting a real moment stick in the editing room.

Jeff Conroy, president of Original Productions, which is behind the GoPro-shot hit “The Deadliest Catch,” agrees that not over-editing coverage is key. “Behind the scenes, sometimes that’s the better stories,” he said, adding, “If that has the best emotional content…no matter what you planned on shooting that day, that’s the story.”

Another topic of discussion with the self-shot trend was budget. While adventure shows like “Deadliest Catch” and “Running Wild With Bear Grylls” are shot with GoPros, Garfinkle says leaving behind professional equipment doesn’t significantly change the economics.

“You still need your producers out there, you still need safety crews out there, you still need your crew,” he said, referring to an unnamed show his company worked on for Animal Planet. “Just because there’s not a camera guy doesn’t mean there’s not a support team and staff…it still costs money.”

Scott chimed in, “Just because it’s authentic, doesn’t mean it’s cheap.”

Regardless of the self-shot trend, the panel agreed that authenticity is here to stay. “We intuitively feel the grit and realism,” said National Geographic Channel’s Alan Eyres. “To me, that’s the gold standard.”

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