A&E, ID, Paramount Network Execs on Recipes for Unscripted Success

In this time of record volume of content competing for audience attention, there’s more than one way to define a series’s success, especially when it comes to structured and unstructured reality shows that don’t follow as strict a format as reality competitions, nor as specific storytelling arcs as scripted programs.

“The DNA and ingredients in every show are very different,” says Keith Cox, president of development at Paramount Network. “You really have to slice it and dice it. Not all shows are created equal, and when you’re thinking of a hit, they’re not defined the same, nor should they be.”

High ratings may be the first indicator of success, but seldom give the full picture of the audience, not only due to viewing habits but also geographic location. “Are they
showing up live? That’s critical and means they’re really into it. Live-plus-three tells a different story — they’re very engaged, but there’s a lot of competition. That’s still great; it means ‘I love your show, I’m a huge fan. I just can’t get to it exactly at a certain day and certain time,’” Cox continues.

Adds Investigation Discovery’s executive vice president and general manager Kevin Bennett: “With Discovery being a global company, and ID being in so many territories around the world, it’s often less about how well a show specifically does, and more about how that genre or type of show could do internationally.”

For A&E Networks, building franchises and creating series that have repeat viewing value is more important. Elaine Frontain Bryant, the group’s executive vice president and head of programming, points to such unstructured series as “Wahlburgers,” “Born This Way,” and “The First 48,” as well as structured series “Live PD,” both of which led to spinoffs, as strong performers.

Live PD,” for example, grew from a two-hour Friday night experiment into a juggernaut airing three-hour episodes each Friday and Saturday night, spawning follow-up series “Live Rescue” and a weekly recap show.

“The metrics for success are very different on a slower night of the week,” Bryant says. Despite debuting on a traditionally slow Monday night, “Live Rescue” ended up with one of A&E’s biggest launches in years.

“The metrics for success are very different on a slower night of the week.”
Elaine Frontain Bryant

Repeatability is also important to ID’s Bennett, home of series including “In Pursuit With John Walsh,” “Body Cam” and “Deadly Women.” But equally so are series that can run multiple episodes back-to-back and entice viewers to stay through the whole thing, in a binge-watching model, and what he calls “new-new” programming.

“Our audience really likes to see new premieres of new series,” Bennett says. Last year’s debut of “Body Cam” expanded ID’s audience by drawing new viewers to the network. “It had all the hallmarks of great storytelling — the twists, the turns, the emotional connection that we have with our audience.”

Of course, awards and critical buzz generate attention, but such organic passion from the audience and internally within the company is even more essential to Paramount Network, says Cox. Some of its biggest structured and unstructured projects, “Bar Rescue” to “Lip Sync Battle,” have become pop culture events, with footage going viral before and after episodes air.

“That’s something we’re always looking for,” Cox says. “If you don’t have that, what do you have?”

More TV

  • ‘Big Brother’ Set for German Comeback

    ‘Big Brother’ Set for German Comeback on Sat.1

    “Big Brother” is returning to German screens after a five-year break. Sat.1 will air the German version of the show, which will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Endemol format that paved the way for a raft of other unscripted shows around the world. Sat.1 said it would also run a celebrity version of [...]

  • ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Gets

    ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Gets Reboot by PBS, Viacom’s Channel 5

    A new adaptation of “All Creatures Great and Small” is in the works for Viacom’s Channel 5 in the U.K. and Masterpiece on PBS in the U.S. The source books by James Herriot, about country veterinarians in 1930s rural England, were made into a much-loved 1978-90 British series that ran to 90 episodes, which also [...]


    Viacom Adds Pluto TV Drama, Food, and Movies to Channel 5’s On-Demand Service

    Viacom is adding a trio of channels from its recently-acquired Pluto TV to My5, the on-demand service of Channel 5, the U.K. free-to-air broadcaster it also owns. Ad-supported OTT service Pluto TV is already available in the U.K., but the My5 deal widens its distribution. It also bulks up My5 at a time when traditional [...]

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth

    The Messy NBC Democratic Debate Proves the Need for a Tier System (Column)

    The opening night of the first debates of the 2020 Democratic Party primaries brought — even by the standards of such way-far-out confrontations between candidates for whom the election remains a far-off dream — vastly more empty drama than new information. But then, that may have been by design. NBC News’s organization of the debates, [...]

  • Max Wright Dead

    'Alf' Actor Max Wright Dies at 75

    Max Wright, best known for playing patriarch Willie Tanner on the sitcom “Alf,” died Wednesday. He was 75. Wright’s family confirmed his death to TMZ. The actor died in his home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., after years of battling cancer. Wright was diagnosed with Lymphona in 1995. Wright is most famous for his role as [...]

  • Greyson Chance -Gabby Barrett Alejandro Aranda

    Greyson Chance, 'Idol' Alums Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda Sign Major Label Deals

    Two “American Idol” alumni — Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda — as well as viral star Greyson Chance all announced new major label recording contracts this week. Barrett, who finished in third place of the first season of the rebooted ABC version of “Idol,” has joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. The singer had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content