New for 2017: Reality Casting Emmy Recognizes ‘Different Process’

Emmys for casting have been around for years in the scripted categories, but the work of casting executives on reality series hasn’t been recognized – until this year’s addition of the outstanding casting in a reality series category.

Reality casting is a completely different process, says Arthur Smith, CEO of A. Smith & Co. Prods. and executive producer of “American Ninja Warrior.”
“Actors can be chameleons and you have to find the right actor for the right part,” he says. “We have to find people who are the real version of what we want and are hoping to get.”

Pilgrim Media Group president and CEO Craig Piligian (“Ghost Hunters,” “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s”) says casting for reality differs from scripted in another way, too.

“In a scripted drama they can recast, they can add characters,” Piligian says. “In unscripted, there are no writers, no directors; it’s just your characters and sometimes your character is your show.”

Scott Salyers, who’s worked in casting on “Shark Tank” and “The Apprentice,” defines outstanding casting as memorable characters.

“I used to do ‘The Apprentice’ and everyone knows who Omarosa is,” he says. “Love her or hate her, you know who she is. And they have to be genuine and not just doing it for TV. They have to be who they are whether the camera is on them or not.”

Angelou Deign, casting director for “American Ninja Warrior,” says she expects nominations in this new category will go to shows where a cast member made a splash.

“They have to be genuine and not just doing it for TV. They have to be who they are whether the camera is on them or not.”
Scott Saylers

“I would think whoever has a reality personality that has blown people away this season,” she says. “Someone who catches the eyes of the world, I would think that would be part of their consideration.”

Depending on the type of unscripted show, casting also calls for a specific skill set, particularly on competition series.

“We have to know they have the ability to articulate their food dreams and how they feel about food,” says “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior” exec producer Robin Ashbrook. “But we also have to know they have the ability to cook.”

Magical Elves co-founder Dan Cutforth, executive producer of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” says good casting is defined by the optimal balance of talent and personality.

“They have to have an interesting story to tell,” he says. “It can’t just be about the competition.”

Casting for reality TV has become more difficult, says Steven Weinstock, co-president and co-CEO of Truly Original (“The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Shahs of Sunset,” “Ink Master”).

“It’s a pond that has been very fished. You have many people who think they want to be Nene Leakes, if you will, but they’re not the real deal.”
Recommendations for category changes or additions come from Emmy peer group executive committees as a reflection of trends in the peer groups.

“Adding a reality casting category was only brought to the attention of our awards committee this year by the casting peer group,” says John Leverence, senior VP of awards at the Television Academy. Casting director, director and producer peer groups will vote in both nomination and final round voting for this new category.

Could the reality casting category be divvied up among sub-genres (docu-series, competition series, etc.) in the future?

“Reality casting now includes structured, unstructured and competition programming,” Leverence says. “Were any of these programming subsets, for two or more years, to have 14 or more entries, it would prompt the board of governors to at least consider breaking them out into a new category.”

Sasha Alpert, executive vice president of casting and films at Bunim/Murray, advocated for the new category as a member of the Television Academy’s casting peer group.

“All of this is just a stepping stone to take reality more seriously,” she says. “At one point there were no [Emmy awards] for reality and slowly it’s [a genre that’s] grown to be recognized.”

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