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Reality TV Chiefs Discuss Controlling IP and Finding Successful Formats

Several top unscripted TV executives and producers descended on the Variety TV Summit Wednesday to break down how the genre has impact the entertainment business.

Rob Wade, Fox Entertainment’s president of alternative entertainment and specials, said having successful formats is clearly a good thing, but it does come with drawbacks from an economic point of view. He explained that finding and pushing new IP is essential for moving the cultural conversation forward as well as ensuring a strong bottom line.

“One of the things we need to be aware of is that the deals that were done on shows 10, 15 years ago are not the deals that you do now,” Wade told Variety’s Michael Schneider. “To move forward as a media company, we do need to start controlling more IP. At Fox we’ve started our own production entity and the reason for that is simple economics.”

ABC Entertainment’s senior vice president of alternative series, specials and late-night programming Rob Mills went into ABC’s recent crop of revivals of hit unscripted shows like “Match Game,” “The Gong Show” and most recently “Press Your Luck.” Mills said the trend started “accidentally” after the network hit it big with “Celebrity Family Feud” with Steve Harvey and from there it was a “natural evolution.”

“You see it certainly in both features and TV that nostalgia is really playing again, whether it’s true reboots of things or something like ‘Stranger Things’ that just feels like it existed 30 years ago,” he said. “This was certainly the same category. ‘Press Your Luck’ was right in that ’80s wheelhouse of people saying, ‘I miss that show.'”

One thing all of the panelists agreed on was the importance of co-viewing. Digital cable and satellite television network UPtv is focused on finding uplifting programming that the whole family can enjoy, according to the network’s executive vice president and general manager Amy Winter.

“We have researched an audience that we call ‘upsiders,'” Winter said. “There’s about 40 million people. We’ve talked to 16,000 of them. What they’re saying is they really want something they can feel good about watching and they’re not seeing enough of it. We made a promise to our viewers that through our reality programs, through our movies that we make, through the acquired shows that we get we will commit to feel-great content that you can share with your family.”

Leading unscripted producer Arthur Smith of A. Smith and Co. currently produces long-running unscripted hits like Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and “American Ninja Warrior” for NBC, but said he understands such shows need to evolve to stay relevant.

“The genre has evolved and it continues to evolve,” he said. “It’s not only in terms of what the programs are but how we produce them. We’ve been doing ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ for a long time…but the show is different. It’s a little more raw, less produced. Gordon still has his edge. He’s still Gordon Ramsay. But it’s not like the way it was. The genre has evolved and we have to keep listening to the audience and understand what’s going on around the world.”

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