Creating a Hit Reality TV Show
"I have an idea for a terrific reality television show that would target 'tweens' -- American boys and girls who are no longer children but not quite teenagers yet. I have done some marketing research with my own tween children and their friends, and they all seem to love the idea. I haven't the foggiest idea how to start, though. I don't have a big budget, I have zero Hollywood connections, and I don't think any big corporation is going to want to sponsor an upstart TV show in the current economy. Is there any way I can make this show a reality?"
Creating a hit TV show is extremely difficult, even in the best of economic times and even if you have extensive contacts in Hollywood. But there is always hope if you have a terrific idea, are extremely patient and are not too fussy about generating big returns quickly.
Is Your Show Buzzworthy? Just because your children like the idea (or say they do -- remember, they want you to pay for their college education) doesn't mean all tweens will. Any show targeting this market has to be extremely fast-paced (for short attention spans), fun, "cool," hip and irreverent -- the kind of show kids will tell their friends about and will generate buzz marketing (you will see why in the next paragraph). If this is a serious educational show, you can forget about it; the kids won't watch it.
Build a Crack (but Cheap) Production Team. Each episode must be professionally produced. DO NOT do this yourself. If you live near New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or another major media center, call some outplacement centers and find out if they're working with any television producers who are between jobs and might be willing to take on your project pro bono to keep from going insane. If you don't, your local community college probably has a film studies department, where at least one aspiring Steven Spielberg may be willing to produce your show pilot as a student assignment, at little or no cost to you.
Going the Public-Access Route. Now it's time to start shooting. Your local cable television station operates a public-access channel that it is required by law to make accessible to all area residents. To produce your show there, you will need to pay a small fee (usually in the $100 to $200 range for a one- to two-hour block of time) for use of a studio, a producer and a camera operator. Once the show is recorded, you are given a DVD, which you can then have duplicated and distributed to all public-access channels in your state. By law, they MUST run the program. Heck, send the DVDs to public-access channels in neighboring states. If they like what you've done, they may run it even though you're not a local.
Make sure each episode is copyrighted, and register each episode with the U.S. Copyright Office before it airs. Doing this establishes a "date of first publication" in case a major TV network or Hollywood studio tries to steal your idea once it becomes popular.
Blitz the internet. Once your show is airing regularly on your local public-access channels:
-- Create a website for the show (your URL should be "www.(name of show)theTVshow.com").
-- Create social media pages devoted to the show (select the "unrestricted view" options so anyone can view these pages).
-- Post videos of each episode on YouTube, Vimeo and other internet television websites, with links to the show website and social media pages.
-- Create avatars for the show characters, and have them act out each episode on http://teen.secondlife.com.
-- Get your children and their friends involved in blogging the show on every tween-oriented website they can find.
Find a Good Lawyer/Agent. Since there will inevitably be legal issues once your show starts building an audience on the web, get a good entertainment attorney. Not only can these folks help you negotiate contracts with sponsors, networks and other industry players; many will -- for a percentage of the show's gross revenue -- act as an agent or representative to pitch the show to industry players if it catches fire on the web. For a list of entertainment attorneys in your area, check out lawyers.uslegal.com and other lawyer referral websites.
Learn the Language. The television industry has its own lingo, which you will need to learn. Here are three excellent books to get you started: "This Business of Television" by Howard Blumenthal, "Film & Video Marketing" by Michael Wiese and "Dealmaking in the Film and Television Industry" by Mark Litwak.
Consider a Crowdfunding Campaign. One thing we've learned about crowdfunding is that it works best when a campaign is buzzworthy, generating lots of comments on social media. Once you have begun building a fan community around your show, pitch them relentlessly for contributions to a Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Think it can't be done? For examples of some popular television shows that started out as YouTube videos, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_YouTube_Originals. Hey, if these guys can do it ...
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.