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NATPE 2008: The do’s and don’ts of alternative programming

01-February-2008
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NATPE 2008:  The do’s and don’ts of alternative programming

The alternative side of programming got its share of attention at the second day of the NATPE Conference 2008. Various heads from studios and broadcasters spoke on the role that alternative programming could play in strengthening primetime. The television executives also discussed some key factors that could be seen as guidelines to create programming that worked.

Thom Beers, Creator/Executive Producer of ‘Deadliest Catch’, ‘Ice Road Truckers’, ‘Monster Garage’, Original Productions, said, “The first attempt should be to try and create a new genre, go where no one has gone, and you are bound to think of a differentiated angle.”

NBC Universal’s ‘American Gladiators’ has seen much publicity of late given that it was seen as a differentiator of sorts coming on the channel’s primetime. Craig Plestis, EVP, Alternative Programming, NBC Entertainment, said, “The show was in sync with the strategy that we had for the channel. The best thing about it is that it is at the right time at the right place, and it is delivering.”

A word of caution that Plestis gave here was that a network could not protect a secret like that, and so speed was of importance in manifesting an idea like this. John Saade, SVP, Alternative Series, Specials and Late Night, ABC Entertainment, said that alternative programming had begun to look more challenging since a lot of titles had been dusted off in recent times. He said, “Key has to be the creation of a shared experience.”

But how far can one take reality, and where does one draw the line? Plestis replied here that creating a broad show targeted at different audiences was one of the hardest things to do. He said, “You have to think of how to make the show digital video recording (DVR) proof, how to get the family there, but it really isn’t easy. You have to go with your gut feel on where the lines have to be drawn.”

The panel agreed that right from the host of the show, to the sets and colours to the off-air support, there was much that played a role in making successful alternative programming.

Another point that was discussed during the day was that of the trend seen of US format producers choosing the UK market over the US to take their formats. Philip Gurin, President, The aGurin Company, explained that the trend was seen more now since UK television networks were looking at these formats, unlike the US networks, where one of the benchmarks was to sail with tested formats. Holly Pye, Head of Television, UK, William Morris Agency, added, “All the US broadcasters watch the UK very closely on what they are doing, what are the new trends there, so there are these synergies between the two markets.”

Glen Hansen, SVP, Sales and Acquisition, Target Entertainment, USA, said, “The UK is willing to put more money in making pilots, and that plays its role. Also, there is a broad shift today to co-creation between networks and studios, and that is opening people up to do things differently.” The experts agreed that much sailed on the strength of the format. C Scot Cru, Executive-in-charge, International, Mark Burnett Production, said, “When the formats sell in different markets, you also see the strength of format and how they can be grown.”

The discussions also revolved on the technicalities of alternative programming, where some had to be taken to different markets exactly and some had to be adapted to the culture there.

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