POSTED BY JOSEF ADALIAN
Itkin made a trip to what he called “enemy territory” in order to appear on a CAA/BAFTA-sponsored panel dubbed “Another British Invasion.” Powwow brought together six of the biggest names in the reality biz, ostensibly to discuss the past and future of Blighty-produced TV in the States.
Night actually turned into a broader discussion encompassing the history of the biz and the challenges it faces, with “American Idol” showrunner Nigel Lythgoe (pictured left) moderating a lively hourlong-plus conversation.
Panel also included CAA reality chief Michael Camacho, unscripted superlawyer Jeanne Newman, Fox alternative prexy Mike Darnell, CBS reality guru Ghen Maynard and Lifetime supremo Andrea Wong (who until recently headed up unscripted programming for ABC).
Group of Six repped a sort of Mt. Rushmore of the modern reality age, collectively repping some sort of involvement in just about every major unscripted skein since “The Real World” kicked off the alternative boom.
Itkin talked about putting together the deal for “Real World” (MTV wanted a soap but didn’t have the coin to pay for actors), while Newman (pictured right)outlined how she got all the major nets to bid on “Big Brother.”
“We had a true bidding war, not like the ones we make up,” Newman quipped.
Wong and Itkin also revealed some of the pre-Regis names bandied about as potential hosts for the primetime edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. It’s tough to imagine Phil Donahue or Charlie Rose asking, “Is that your final answer?”- but they were contenders.
While WMA, thanks to Itkin (pictured left) and a young agent named Ben Silverman, dominated the early reality biz, Camacho talked about how CAA began moving in with shows such as “The Bachelor,” “Amazing Race” and “American Idol.”
With others thriving with overseas talent, “I decided we were going to be the American representatives of American talent,” Camacho said. He also displayed candor about the advice he gave client Mike Fleiss regarding “The Bachelor.”
“I told him it was a terrible idea and not to do it,” he said. Skein has gone on to be one of the most successful—and copied—formats ever.
Some other highlights of the night:
**Lythgoe relentlessly teased his Fox partner Darnell (pictured right), displaying the same sort of friendly bashing Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest regularly display on “Idol.” After giving very friendly intros to the rest of the panel, Lythgoe presented Darnell by reading off a list of some of his most out-there credits (including “Alien Autopsy”).
“He’s either a brilliant programmer or an evil genius bent on hastening the end of civilization as we know it,” he said. Replied Darnell: “The latter.”
And when Lythgoe asked just what Americans like about British talent, Darnell shot back, “Not much, Nigel.” Lythgoe also called Darnell “a very brave leader, and when you haven’t lead, you’ve copied.”
“I’ve lead the copying,” Darnell quickly replied.
** After jokingly dismissing Blighty hosts, Darnell said that, in truth, the town has grown to love British hosts. “They add a degree of class to a show that might not have it,” he said. “Like ‘The Swan’.”
Several panel members bemoaned the shortage of quality American host talents. “Network bosses think any actor can host a show, but it’s just not true,” Darnell said.
** Maynard danced around a question about “Kid Nation,” but did say nets and producers need to make sure they adhere to a level of honest in their reality shows. He specifically called out producers who misuse soundbites from contestants in order to advance storylines.
“These are people who are entrusting their lives to us,” said Maynard (pictured left). “It’a all about being able to aspire to a higher standard.”
** Wong and others agreed that it’s been a tough couple of summers for new reality shows, but nobody seems to be ready to write off the genre.
Reality “is subject to the same creative peaks and valleys (as scripted fare),” said Wong (pictured right). “We’re probably in or about to enter one of those valleys.”
Camacho said comedies and dramas face similar problems, but that reality producers are more agile. “We’re able to switch gears more quickly,” he said.
** Despite evidence that reality development is picking up, the network execs insisted it wasn’t because of a pending WGA strike. There was general agreement that overdeveloping in advance of a strike is a bad thing.
“If you just pick up something because of a strike, it’s going to flop,” Maynard said.