With an umbrella theme of Content Without Borders, NATPE 2015 is devoting its opening day to the unscripted side of the TV business.

The day features panels on the state of the industry; a case study of ABC’s “Shark Tank”; and a PRO Pitch event, in which attendees can toss ideas at decision-makers. The centerpiece is a luncheon showcasing the inaugural Reality Breakthrough Awards, honoring shows in competition, docusoap, gameshow, reality and factual categories.

According to NATPE president and CEO Rod Perth, moving the 2015 confab one week earlier made this possible, since it now doesn’t conflict with the Realscreen Summit, a confab for unscripted content in Washington, D.C.

“We finally fixed that, so we no longer compete,” Perth says. “Reality was a segment of the business that we needed to emphasize this year. We needed to design something that was relevant and, more- over, in the case of the awards themselves, we felt that it was worth paying tribute to those shows that really stand out.”

Among the diverse slate of nominees are “Shark Tank,” NBC’s “The Voice,” Fox’s “MasterChef Junior,” MTV’s “Catfish,” Discovery’s “Naked & Afraid,” CNBC’s “The Profit,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and two shows featuring chef Anthony Bourdain — CNN’s “Parts Unknown” and Travel’s “No Reservations.”

While it’s still popular in some quarters to deride unscripted programming, Perth says, “You’d have to be a snob and a fool to suggest for a moment that reality doesn’t serve an audience. It does.”

Although the inaugural awards don’t feature any shows from FremantleMedia Co.’s Original Productions (“Deadliest Catch,” “Storage Wars”), CEO and executive producer Phil Segal says, “I tell you what is refreshing — it’s nice to hear that expansive an array of shows, from different genres and producers.”
He also feels that unscripted and scripted share a common DNA.

“At the end of the day, it really is about character and story and relatability,” he says. “It’s always going to be about how we, as an audience, connect with these characters and how the definition of those characters define us.”

Chrisley Knows Best,” a nominee in the docusoap category, features one of reality’s newest breakout characters, Atlanta businessman, husband and father of five Todd Chrisley, who’s parlayed his flamboyant personal style and strong-minded parenting techniques into two seasons and a third on the way.
Kids-only cooking contest “MasterChef Junior” is nominated in the competition category, but its exec producer, Paul Franklin, who’s also the exec VP of unscripted programming for Shine America, appreciates what “Chrisley” does right.

“You first watch it, it confounds you,” he says. “It’s not just another shock reality show. It’s also fresh. Fresh is what we’re all looking for; something that we haven’t seen before. ‘Chrisley’s’ a great show. ‘MasterChef Junior’ is great, because it hasn’t been seen before.

“Reality has continued to evolve and become more intelligent. The audience is getting smarter, too. They don’t want to be just hit between the eyes with the shock and awe of entertainment. They want to see things that have storytelling in them; they want to see characters that have layers to them. They want to be surprised.”