Realscreen Summit 2012: Talking trends

Network programmers and prodco heads weighed in on trends in non-fiction TV, and what they're looking to buy and sell, during a Realscreen Summit panel session this week.
02-03-11 henry schleiff

(Pictured: Henry Schleiff, president and GM, Investigation Discovery, Planet Green and Military Channel. Photo: Rahoul Ghose)

Network programmers and prodco heads weighed in on trends in non-fiction TV, and what they’re looking to buy and sell, during a Realscreen Summit panel session yesterday.

Programmers on the “Trending TV” session, moderated by Half Yard Productions co-founder Abby Greensfelder, included Eli Lehrer, VP development, Bravo, who said of his network’s content,”We jokingly say [we have] two kinds, shows about rich people or people who work for rich people.”

Henry Schleiff, president and general manager of Investigation Discovery, Planet Green and Military Channel, said that what’s working for ID is having consistent mystery and suspense content, and offsetting the entertainment with “important” programming.

“That can be anything from Injustice Files, to [the upcoming] Death At the End of a Rope, [or] Werner Herzog’s Death Row, all docs or limited series that shout gravitas,” he said.

He added that Planet Green is in the midst of a rebranding, and in development on more lifestyle, food and travel programming, under an Americana theme.

Agreeing that success is in diversity, Dirk Hoogstra, SVP development and programming for History, said, “I can’t have hits in any one category and that’s all I do. If we’re not looking for that next thing, we’d have our eggs in a couple of baskets.

“I’m looking to push the entertainment envelope,” he added. “What format styles are out there that we can mash up with the History brand and make it work for us?”

Nick Thorogood, managing director for Food Network EMEA, explained that for the amount of territories he covers, “We’re looking for ‘the hits plus.’” He explained that a recent show commissioned by his team had appeal for multiple territories, from England to India.

“I greatly believe there are only four or five ideas in TV,” he added. “Trying to spot something that’s been missing for a while and bringing it back is as important as something you might describe as pure innovation.”

Still, Thorogood also gave a word of caution to those pitching to him. He is fed up with hearing pitches for “the next” single name chef, as in “the next Nigella.”

On the production side, Shed Media US president Nick Emmerson said his company’s strategy is to be diverse and that Supernanny was its “Trojan horse that opened up America.”

On the topic of protecting a hit show from spinoffs, Hoogstra said, “You can’t. All you can do is everything possible to make the best show. It’s going to be a crowded category. If something hits, expect the piranhas to come out.”

Before the panel wrapped, some of the panelists shared what they’re looking for, with Hoogstra saying he’s looking for more formatted shows.

Bravo’s Lehrer said that in the wake of the success of the Housewives franchise, he’s looking for “new ways to do multi-character, female ensemble shows.” Not wanting to retread the ground covered by that franchise, he’s aiming to find “different access points so [it's] not just women living in the same geographic region, and ways to connect them,” he said.

“The way in to a yes from us is something that particularly resonates with women, [that is] entertaining, informed, puzzle solving, [and has] emotion and tension,” offered Schleiff, regarding ID. “The husband or boyfriend is the bad guy and [it] starts with high stakes. Put that into the recipe and we’ve got our ears open big time.”