Could Your Small Business Be The Next Big Reality TV Star?

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on June 28, 2011
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No matter how vehemently its harshest critics pan the genre, reality television isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The popularity of the format signifies a workable marriage of convenience and contentment between networks and viewers. For the vast television audience desirous of brainless, flashy entertainment, reality TV is the answer. Equally, for programming executives habitually grappling with slumping ratings and rising expenses, reality TV presents a cost-effective remedy for programming ailments facing the network. Unscripted programming, for example, obviously doesn’t require a team of highly compensated writers.

Sometimes, the most entertaining content isn’t written at all. Instead, it’s real. And it’s remarkable just how much of this aforementioned content is derived from the once unassuming workplaces of America. Without question, small businesses not only represent the proverbial backbone of the U.S. economy, they also provide some of the most colorful and quirky working environments imaginable. Is it any wonder why so many hit contemporary reality shows are set inside the offbeat confines of a small business? From nail salons to pawn shops, small businesses are giving the entertainment industry no shortage of fodder for reality TV.

As a result, Hollywood producers and production companies are being inundated with reality TV show pitches from mom-and-mom outfits in almost every location that would otherwise be an unthinkable spot from which a major broadcast television production would originate. There’s no question about it. Small businesses have taken the small screen by storm. And yours may very well be the next to do so.

Is Your Small Business Right for Reality TV?

Do you employ a colorful cast of characters at your business? Is your company an interesting place to work? Is your office constantly full of laughs and surprises? Unfortunately, many SBOs would answer in the affirmative to all the above and yet, regrettably, their dreams of reality TV stardom would still be dashed by a producer who doesn’t find in your workplace the one thing he or she is looking for above all else — the so-called “it factor,” the veritable life-blood of modern reality television.

What is this “it factor” the moguls in show business speak of? In reality TV-land, the intangible quality referenced is complete originality. It isn’t enough to just be entertaining. To earn a coveted spot among the darlings of reality TV, you, your small business and all that comes with it must deliver a completely unorthodox presentation. And there’s only one way to tell if yours is capable of doing that: To give it a go yourself.

Point and Shoot

Unless you’ve got a connection in the biz, the chances are slim to none that you’ll simply walk through the entrance of a major television network and mosey immediately into the hearts of an executive ready to fork over precious broadcast time to your untested show concept. But luckily for you, in the age of social media, the opportunities for getting discovered have actually grown exponentially.

The best way to test the viability of your reality show premise, industry experts say, is to shoot your own video of the workplace personalities and situations that inspired your idea in the first place. Even if the only video camera you have is the one that came with your cell phone, there’s nothing stopping you from making a brief homemade episode of the reality series you envision. Once your presentation is complete, upload the footage to YouTube and tag it “reality show pitch.”

Think it’s a long shot that you’ll be discovered? Think again. Networks and production companies now employ staff whose job is to scour the web and places like YouTube and Facebook for the next big thing. If you’re among the fortunate, the same individuals you couldn’t get a meeting with will still see your video pitch.

A Reality Check

Naturally, the odds of selling your show idea — no matter how truly wonderful it may be — are slim. But if shooting a pilot episode yourself isn’t a feasible or attractive option to you, there remains a so-called traditional way to pitch your idea. And if you sincerely believe that you and your small business share the “it factor,” you owe it to yourself — and to reality TV viewers everywhere — to at least follow these well-traveled steps to try to get your show on the air.

  1. Give careful consideration to your show idea and catalog everything that would make it an original, must-watch program.
  2. Do your homework to ensure the idea isn’t too similar to something already on the air.
  3. Create a log line: a brief, one or two-sentence summary of your concept designed to attract the interest of those who read it.
  4. Draft a synopsis (four to eight paragraphs) describing your show, general theme, characters, etc. Attach an outline of a sample episode based on real events that have transpired involving you or your small business.
  5. Produce a brief but gripping argument for why your show will be profitable and popular, given current audience trends and market preferences. (Research is key!)
  6. Register your show idea online with the WGA (small fees apply) and include your registration number in the written pitch.
  7. Draft a single page cover letter (called a query letter) introducing yourself, your relevant experience, and the attached written pitch.
  8. Go online to research networks and production companies for targeted pitching opportunities.
  9. Remit your pitch via snail mail (or email if appropriate) and include a self-addressed stamped envelope so they can reply. If a network is interested, they will require you to sign a release protecting them from litigation for reading your work.
  10. Allow four to eight weeks for review. If you hear nothing, follow up as aggressively as you feel comfortable with each contact. Good luck!
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