Mar 10, 2009

Reality TV Show Ideas - What Works and What Doesn't

Pitch Your New Reality Show Concepts To Top Producers at The TV Writers Vault

The First & Only Industry Website To Deliver "Ideas" From Everyday People To Production & Global Broadcast On A&E, Discovery Channel, SyFy & others

Why do some ideas for reality programs work, and others don't?

The biggest challenge I've seen with new writers and creators pitching reality-based projects, comes in two forms.

1) The pitch gives more description of "why" the show is entertaining, and not enough about what we're actually seeing as content for the show, and...

2) The idea is more entertaining in theory than in reality.

With all the expectation one would have with a great idea for a new reality show, pitches often fall flat when the Producer isn't getting the very simple information they need to make a judgement call. Its a very straight forward question they're asking when they start reading the pitch; What Are We Actually Watching?

You've got to be real with yourself and step outside of the love you have for your great idea, and see it for what it actually is. Here's a familiar one: "We do a relationship reality series about matchmaking on the Internet. Everyone can relate, the stories would be endless, and we could have sponsor it". Sounds like it should work, right? Wrong. What would you actually be watching? People surfing the internet? People on blind dates?(already overdone). People emailing eachother, flirting? One word describes all of that- Boring.

So the challenge remains; what key elements can you build a concept around that will give your pitch compelling content. Reality TV is successful because people are interested in the human condition, and seeing new things outside of their own reality. Concepts that are being scouted and picked up by Producers at the TV Writers Vault most often involve a unique business, hobby, lifestyle, family or other subjects with strong characters involved, and content that is truly interesting to watch.

Get more details on this subject by checking out "How To Create and Pitch A Reality TV Show Idea" at the TV Writers Vault.

Post your comments and questions, or email us at the site.


  1. Hi Scott,
    I've been receiving your emails for several months while I've been going back and forth about my reality show idea and what to do with it. I think it's a great concept and I registered it with the WGA nearly a year ago. After reading this post about what works and what doesn't, I am convinced my concept falls into the category of what works. Your words gave my confidence a real boost, and now I think I should take the whole thing more seriously and move forward with writing out the details and getting the idea in front of the right people. Is this the point that you would recommend that I look into a membership with your company? Any advice coming directly from you would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!!!!
    ~Alexandra G.

  2. Hi Alexandra-
    I'm glad you've got some inspiration going for your project, and happy that I can help.
    Before you place it in the TV Writers Vault, you'll want to be sure you have a fully developed treatment (title, logline, synopsis) of the project. Once archived, you can make edits to it live on the site as well.
    If you really believe in your concept for a show, you shouldn't question if its time to start writing it. You should open your eyes at 6:02 in the morning and be too impatient to wait for the coffee to brew before getting to your computer to punch out some clear and exciting pages! :)
    Best of luck, and have fun.

  3. Good day Scott,

    You mentioned that "Once archived, you can make edits to it live on the site as well." Doesn't that then create a problem with the copywrite protection afforded by the original registration with the Vault or WGA?

    Thanks for your feedback Scott.

    Cheers Ted

  4. Hi Scott! I love what you said about waking up at 6:02am not even being able to wait for the pot of coffee to brew.........LOVE IT! Thanks for the motivation and insight! I've got the title and logline-still working on the rest. I appreciate the well wishes! You'll hear from me again soon!

  5. Hi Scott...I did post my reality series concept on your website and got a few hits...but in a matter of weeks, I was able to pitch it to an industry friend of mine who hooked me up with a new and start up production company, a division of a large conglomerate. They loved the idea, loved the concept and greenlighted the shooting of the sizzle reel...unfortunately, it was about 5 months before the production company was freed up to shoot the sizzle reel...3 long days, and 30+ hours of fabulous footage later, we were fired up and excited...but again, we waited...another 3 months before this production company was able to edit the reel together so we could start shopping it to networks. This production house had access to a major industry agency to start pitching it...pitch meetings commenced with networks, feedback was positive and some definite interest, but then another 2 months went by and eventually, we had slowly heard through the grapevine that 3 other reality shows with similar concepts got the jump on us over the course of the 10 months we were getting our act together, so networks were reluctant to compete with shows that were already it is now 4 months later, no shows with similar concepts have materialized and my partner and I want to produce the show ourselves, get our own financial backing and sponsors and lease airtime on a new and up-and-coming network that's hungry for already produced this is good way to go or are we dreaming? What are your thoughts on this? We got the talent ready to go, a fabulous sizzle reel and almost 4 complete episodes edited and in the can and we're hoping to complete 2 more episodes in the next 2 months. Can this be done? Eager to hear your thoughts. Thanks!!

  6. Hi Sara-
    Its great that you got a company involved who invested some resources to leave you with a reel, and tangible product to pitch. Its a familiar situation to have projects stagnate with people who can't move them. I've been in that situation on both sides (not having the right combination of relationships to move a certain project, or having a project purchased by the wrong company only to learn they weren't in love enough to make it a priority). You have to move fast and be bold if you have a quasi-pilot or sample episodes to show. Try to get to the development execs at the production companies who work with the networks you feel it would be right for. Its always best to have a production company on board who is active with the networks.

    I honestly don't think that financial backing is going to make a difference when trying to sell the show. To the network, its all about who is producing it and what the content is. If you do get a new production company running for it, then it helps to have some deficit financing on board to produce a pilot if that's what the strategy is, and the producing company wants that. It all depends on who the production company is, and what their strategy is. You have to run hard with it to find the right company.

  7. Thanks Scott! Wow, your comments and advice are so incisive and right on the button! Thank you so much for taking the time to post...I neglected to tell you that we did generate interest from a second producer once our original production company failed to deliver, so to speak...the second producer, a heavy hitter with strong connections to the networks, flipped for our reel, took over our project and started soft pitching to network execs, but alas, feedback was that they had already seen the concept within the last 10 months and had knowledge that similar projects were in the works...this 2nd producer told us to give it some time to, let the industry do it's periodical evolution, so to speak, and see what comes up in about 6 months or so. I, myself, feel this project has some serious legs and sitting back and waiting, a second time, is not a good idea. Like you said, being "bold" and "moving fast", is definitely what I intend to do. Thank you for the pin-point accurate advice!

  8. Hi Scott. I have posted a reality show idea on your site and have had some interest. If I am lucky enough to have someone make an offer on the idea, what is my role in the production of the reality series? I am also developing a TV series as well. What would my role be if a production company picked that up?

  9. Hi Jennifer-
    Your role in any production depends on your experience in the industry and relationship with the production company. If you're new to the industry, you'll take a passive position. You'll receive some form of "producer" credit, fees that apply, and other financial participation, but a Network is only interested in working with producers who can deliver a show. You'd be optioning your concept to a production company, and that production company would be point for all communications and meetings with the Network. Some production companies don't even take an active role in production. The Network may prefer to create their own production unit to physically create and deliver the show, and the production company that optioned your concept is only involved in the development or key meetings.

    Once you have some credits and experience, then you can negotiate a more active role.

  10. Hi again Scott,
    I think I'm ready to post my project on your site and become a member, but I have another question. The idea has been registered with the Writer's Guild (west) for a while now. Will I still need to register it with the Creator's Vault to acquire a CV #? If so, why? If not, will I just be including the WGA # on your site with my project submission? Thanks so much for your help!

  11. Hi Alexandra-
    You don't have to do both a WGA registration and Creators Vault registration. They are the same method of protection; providing third party proof-of-creation with date and time stamped archival.

  12. Scott,
    You are a very honest man. Just read through these comments and your replies and I only have one word to say. God Bless You (lol)


  13. Thank you, Su!
    You can also visit our forum to read other topics and discussions with me. Its at
    Have a great week-

  14. If you haven't already, be sure to visit our new page at the TV Writers Vault for "How To Create & Pitch Reality TV Show ideas".

  15. Mr. Manville writes. . .If you really believe in your concept for a show, you shouldn't question if its time to start writing it. You should open your eyes at 6:02 in the morning and be too impatient to wait for the coffee to brew before getting to your computer to punch out some clear and exciting pages! :)

    Finally. . .I know why my heart is always beating rapidly and I cannot sleep! Phew and whew. . .I thought I was having a heart attack. It's just the passion in writing my pitch. . .who knew! lol