The Hollywood Radio & Television Society can always be relied on to bring some of the most successful executives in television together for a panel discussion at its industry luncheons, and its latest devoted to "Unscripted Hitmakers" did not disappoint. Between the likes of "American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and "Jersey Shore" EP SallyAnn Salsano alone, broadcast and cable's biggest unscripted programs were represented.
Which made it something of a surprise that one of the more interesting moments in their wide-ranging discussion, moderated by former CNN talk-show host Larry King, focused not on the art of hitmaking but on the bombs that are bound to happen to even the best in TV production.
"Sometimes it's your favorite shows that don't work," confessed Salsano, who thought she had a sure thing when her company, 495 Prods., produced "Texas Quints" for TLC, only to be overshadowed by another TLC show about multiple births, "Jon and Kate Plus 8." ( "Our couple got along," joked Salsano of the show's fatal flaw.)
Thom Beers, executive producer of "Deadliest Catch," alluded to a more recent ratings struggle: his critically acclaimed new series "Coal" is not catching on at Spike to his chagrin. "The audience is not getting there yet," he said. "They're looking for a different type of program."
J.D. Roth, executive producer of "The Biggest Loser," noted that sometimes circumstances far beyond an industry exec's control can wreak havoc on a show. He cited his own 2008 series "Opportunity Knocks," which brought a light touch to the game show by testing a family about how well they knew each other. But when the show's release coincided with several days of massive losses on Wall Street, Roth believes "Knocks" seemed out of touch with the times.
"No one cared about some mom's favorite ice cream flavor when you just lost three-quarters of your net worth," he said.
After each producer took turns discussing their bombs, Beers had the last word and shared this keen observation. "None of us ever blame the show," he said. "It's the f**king audience!"