Variety Show Title Ideas For A Narrative Essay
Connecting Your TV Show Concepts with the
Industry's Top Executives & Producers
Shows Discovered and Produced for Global Broadcast On Discovery Channel,
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|"...We have an insatiable appetite for witnessing and being entertained by the human experience"|
What They Really Are...
If you look at most of the reality show ideas that get produced, they most often revolve around a specific issue or event that everybody can relate to, and out of that is built a game. They are in essence, game shows. But even more importantly, they are big fun, and often dramatic social experiments. Another thing to remember is that some things are fun to play, and some things are fun to watch. To truly connect with an audience and have entertainment value in a show, you need both. The quality of a reality-based show can span from awful to inspiring. But the reason viewers tune in is because we have an insatiable appetite for witnessing and being entertained by the human experience.
Conceiving and Creating:
Learn what Reality TV Producers and Network Executives look for in new pitches by reading our exclusive interviews with Industry Executives. Be Specific in your idea, and try several approaches. Here’s a typical scenario that will give you an idea of why being specific and unique is important: “Ms. Network Executive” gives a production company executive the inside scoop that they would love to find a show that places contestants in some sort of "fish-out-of-water scenario" and would like it to involve a family. That in itself is a generic idea, but it does send the creative mind in a specific direction. What she’s hoping is that you will be the one to deliver an approach to that concept that is totally unique and something they never would have thought of. They may be spending time trying to develop the concept internally, while also taking pitches from a handful of producers. Many producers will create two or three variations on the same concept. And each of those will give you a different result, a different experience as a viewer, and therefore they are considered by any executive taking stock- different shows. So don’t be afraid to work on several shows within the same theme. It can only increase your chance of making a sale.
Check Out Our Explainer Video On Pitching & Selling Reality Show Ideas At The TV Writers Vault:
Choose concepts and subjects that are highly marketable-
Titles are very important. They should roll off the tongue easily, provoke conversations, and simply tell you exactly what you’re going to be watching. The Bachelor" The Apprentice, Gold Rush, Wife Swap, The Biggest Loser, America's Got Talent, InkMasters, Flipping Out, Blind Date, Little People-Big World, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Pawn Stars are all good examples. Word play is always a good way to grab attention and create curiosity. Meet the Parents, Wife Swap, and Blind Date are all specific to what their show is about, while using known phrases to create titles that provoke curiosity.
Think of movies-
"Story" is a critical element to define when developing a reality-based project. When you look at movies, look at the core concept and story elements of the film, and a reality show just might be staring you smack in the face. “Cannonball Run”, “Meet the Parents”, “Around the World in Eighty Dates” “The Fugitive” are all specific examples of film concepts that have translated into reality-based shows for television.
|"They are plays in morality and extreme social experiments"|
Examples of Reality TV Shows, and why they work:
Unique Professions or Lifestyles: One of the simplest and most successful sub-genre of reality show is the documentary style series covering unique professions or lifestyles. These stories serve the insatiable curiosity viewers have to gain insight into other peoples lives and jobs. Bravo's The Real Housewives of Orange County is a guilty-pleasure glimpse into the spoiled and faux-glamorous lives of a certain group of women in Orange County, California. Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch takes us out on the high seas with Alaskan king crab fishermen battling giant waves and wind as they fight to pull their catch and earn a days pay. Both of these series are covered in documentary style format, so if you have a subject or idea for a reality series that fits into this style, you've got to have the actual people involved to pitch it. Repo men may have a compelling profession, but you'll need to have the stories of the actual, specific repo man that would star in the series. Again, it's not just pitching the idea, but pitching the specific person and profession that the series would be focused on.
They are plays in morality or social experiments. Survivor, produced by Mark Burnett Productions, is a microcosm of our society. We are stuck living together, therefore we must get along. Each person must strategize to win, but must do so without creating enemies, because it is their neighbor that votes if they can continue or if they get kicked out. It isn’t always fair, and therein lies the fun. In that pressure-cooker atmosphere we see the players true character rise to the surface. Even though the show is set up, you get real drama. Another example: To put a group of young adults together in the same house that are strangers, living, working and playing creates an inherent “soap opera” for the audience to watch. That was Bunim/Murray Productions’ “The Real World”, and it opened up the young viewing audience to a new form of compelling TV. Documentary-style coverage of a set-up situation.
The Apprentice, another Mark Burnett brainchild, has similar game elements to that of Survivor but takes place in a different jungle- the corporate jungle. Aspiring business mavens must work together under the scrutinizing eye of Donald Trump. Poor performers of the weekly business task face Trump in his boardroom where each week one person is fired. A marketing person will tell you that people will tune into this show to see Trump fire someone each week. True! But the reason viewers find it compelling to watch is because of the specific moments of drama that come out of situations and challenges that face us all. As in most dramatized pieces, it is a "heightened reality" that makes it entertaining to watch.
A show that branded the cable network of Bravo with a Network Hit, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was a simple and entertaining formula that brought opposite worlds together when hapless straight guys are thrown to the mercy of five gay experts in all that is hip and chic, in hopes of resurrecting their lifestyle and appearance. The result of bringing these two mismatches together.... comedy and quality entertainment. The emotional hook in this show isn't the obvious "comedy that ensues", but the heart strings that the show touches when someone's life is changed for the better. You'll notice this as the root of any successful makeover show. It's not about the makeup and furniture, it's about changing lives.
Another show that received great critical acclaim in reality programming is Wife Swap on ABC. Beyond being a "fish-out-of-water" concept, the show is built on casting "oil and water". Husbands and wives discover the grass ISN'T always greener when they swap husbands or wives to experience family life through someone else's perspective and practices.
ABC’s hit franchise The Bachelor is both simple in concept and execution, but what the Producers of the show know how to do is pull drama from specific moments of tension and anticipation. It’s classy, it’s romantic, and again- it’s real drama that we’re watching. And one thing that puts it a cut above the rest is that it isn’t necessarily a journey of breaking hearts as much as it is a journey of two people finding true love with each other (that hopefully lasts beyond the air-date of the show). The show romanticizes the courting process and we can't get enough of it.
One example of a good concept that inspired by an event many of us can relate to was the WB reality series, High School Reunion. A production executive went to their high school reunion and experienced the organic drama and issues that are alive at any high-school reunion. That was the nucleus of what became a prime-time reality show. The show keyed on the characters we all know; the beauty queen, the jock, the nerd, the bully, the loner, the gossipers, the rockers, etc. They chose to build the show around a ten-year reunion because having most of the people at age 28, they’ll find a large chasm in the career and life progress of each person. Some will already be huge successes, some will have taken turns for the worse, most will be insecure and frustrated. Again, it is all built for drama. And you can be sure that there will be humor with revenge fantasies played out, unrequited love rekindled, or even a grudge match between the ex-nerd turned judo champ, and the ex-bully turned couch potato. It’s something we all relate to, and fun to watch.
Another form of reality-based programming that came back into play has been the hidden-camera show. A few of the more popular shows have been The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, Punked, and the cable hit juggernaut Impractical Jokers. The segments are semi-scripted for direction, but improvised by the actors involved with the "marks" that the joke is being played out on. The concept is simple but limitless- You have very talented improv actors in varying set-ups, and always delivering funny results. Unsuspecting “marks” become players in what is essentially an unscripted scene of comedy and drama.
Reality TV Show Pitch Template:
The following is a simple structure (content not included) of presentation for any project, and is similar to the registration/submission form used for the Television Writers Vault. Most project outlines describing a show will be 1 to 3 pages in length:
TITLE OF SHOW:
LOGLINE - 1 or 2 sentence description of your concept. Similar to what you might see in TV Guide or on a poster for a movie, but a bit more descriptive of content.
Synopsis - A detailed description of your show as we would see it on TV. Usually 1 to 5 pages in length. This details the "arc" of the season. It's important to be efficient with your descriptions, yet give enough information to provoke interest of the reader. The golden rule: Show the reader what we are watching.
There is no “right” way to form a TV pitch for the various reality-based and scripted genres in television. However, there are philosophies and formats that will help the buyer see more clearly what your TV show idea is, and it’s potential. Following are a few samples of written pitches for reality show concepts. These are very basic synopsis' written. A more developed and expansive version can be written at any point in the development process.
Reality TV Pitch Synopsis Samples:
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Title: Broadway Bound
Logline (short pitch):"Waiting For Guffman" meets "American Idol". A flamboyant Broadway director and choreographer descend on a small town, infiltrating the local play. One performer will be taken back to Broadway for a featured part in a real Broadway show.
Synopsis: [content should be 3 to 7 paragraphs outlining the content of the show as it unfolds. Be specific and original in your execution]
A Docu-Style Reality Series for Television.
In every small town, there are big dreams…
In Washbuckle, Missouri the regional theatre holds open casting calls for their annual musical review. Some members of the troupe have dreams of making it to Broadway or Hollywood. Others are content in being the star of Washbuckle, Missouri hogging what little limelight there is year after year.
But what happens when, just one week before opening night, a ruthless Broadway Director and Choreographer drops into town with the agenda of taking control of the small town production while scouting for talent to find his “star”? It’s a fascinating look at big dreams in small town America. The personal stories and archetypical characters that collide as opening night approaches. The ego-maniacal local theatre director getting systematically pushed aside by the big-city Broadway director. The humorous moments as the city-slickers struggle to tolerate the small town ways and mentality. The infighting among potential cast members. The panic that ensues as the cast, choreography, and production are turned on it’s tail at the eleventh hour. The inspiring moments that rise to the surface amidst the chaos of opening night…. And “the decision”. One person from the cast will be chosen for a spot in a hit Broadway production, a trip to Hollywood for a spot on a soap-opera and every chance they could ever hope for being famous?
8 Episode Season Arc:
1. Meet the town folk. Get to know the key characters and the theatre group. We’ll also watch in parallel the merciless Broadway Director in action in New York, seeing the contrasts in both characters. We’ll take a humorous look at the awful auditions for the small town play. We’ll see the announcement (or rumor) of the impending arrival of the Broadway Director scouting for talent, and witness the anxiety that is infused in each of our small town characters fighting to get into the play.
2. In-fighting, tensions escalating, accusations, the director starts feeling the pressure. People are cast. Hearts are broken, hopes are sparked. They have a first run-through with the cast. The mysterious Broadway director in black sits in the back. (Imagine a Simon Cowell) snapping from the back row, “Stop! Every one of you STOP!!” He then marches down the isle. An imposing figure. He introduces himself and delivers the news that he has come to find talent. And someone from this town, in this play, will be chosen. He goes on about how he sees nothing but problems. The play will be re-cast, the production will stop now! (One week before opening night)
3. The new director and small-town director fight. Cast members protest. New auditions are held, and performances scrutinized. A new cast is announced, and from that cast will come his “star”.
4. The pressure is on to bring it together for opening night, we’ll cover four days of rehearsals, as well as the personal struggles surrounding the production. Anticipation, anxiety, resentment, hope, adrenaline. Opening night! We see the performance and the reactions of our Broadway director. Cliff-hanger for his decision on who will be Broadway bound!
5. Re-cap of the series, the performances, the arguments, and finally… the decision. One of the people that landed a role, large or small in this little play is chosen. We share in the afterglow, the elation, and the disappointment of others. And sharing a dream come true for that one person selected.
6. Broadway New York!! Our winner is whisked around like a star. Taken backstage of a REAL Broadway production, immersed in the whole lifestyle. Meetings with Hollywood talent scouts, directors of other productions, agents, etc.
7. We see our small town hero take his leap of faith, jumping headfirst into a Broadway show. A dream is realized.
Title:"The Last Tango"
Logline: Five soon-to-be engaged couples will face their fidelity as their relationships are tested, ultimately proving their readiness or rejection of the biggest commitment of their lives. Temptation Island” meets “Around the World in Eighty Dates”
Synopsis: Five soon-to-be-engaged couples will be brought together for a relationship-altering journey. In this series, each person will explore and discover what their relationship is really made of when faced with The "Last Tango". Those couples cast will be currently involved in a “long engagement” or living together as boyfriend/girlfriend for an extended period. All will be at a turning point, or breaking point in their relationships.
Each couple will be separated into groups of five men and five women. We will then follow each group of men and women on a romp-around-America Last Tango before marriage. Locales will be Hawaii, Las Vegas, Nashville, New York City, Beverly Hills, and Miami. On their journey they will be set-up at events, outings, and other social adventures where they will meet and spend time with a variety of tempting prospects or “dates”.
Each of our couples will be privy to fear-provoking information about their significant other’s activities while they themselves are in the midst of their own journey of temptation, or perhaps the discovery of a new love. It’s a triangle of conflict that will boil over into the final episode when our couples are reunited.
[SAMPLE EPISODE SEGMENTS SHOULD BE DETAILED IN THIS PORTION]
Final Episode: One person of each couple does not know they will return from their Sabbatical to face an ultimatum by their partner on Live TV. It is at that moment they will be confronted by their significant other who poses the ultimatum; “Marry me now, or lose me forever”.
Each relationship faces peril or a prize; to part separate ways or get married at that moment. Ten adventures, five couples, five ultimatums, all leading to five moments of drama on Live TV. For some it will be the final straw. For others, a new beginning. “Can your relationship survive The Last Tango?”
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How to Create and Pitch Reality TV Ideas
Synopsis Samples and Pitch Template
The most common titles are either expository (they tell the story) or evocative (they set the tone). ''Sea Patrol, A Country Practice, G.P., great expository titles - or All Saints, Return to Eden, all the way back to Gone with the Wind; they don't necessarily tell you a lot but they evoke something,'' McElroy says.
''Survivor, Big Brother, Miami Vice, Hawaii Five-0: they are great titles; they immediately evoke a gotta-see-that feeling in an audience,'' he says. ''Always Greener, great title; Packed to the Rafters, terrific title.''
The lesson, McElroy says, has been learnt particularly well by American reality TV shows. ''If you look at what's on air today, Tool Academy is a perfect description of that show. The Real Housewives of Atlanta. They are fantastic titles and they make people want to watch.''
McElroy produced two of the most iconic police dramas of the '90s, Water Rats and Blue Heelers, and both titles had unusual gestations. Water Rats was suggested by writer John Hugginson but nixed by Nine Network chairman Kerry Packer, who felt viewers would not want ''a rat in their loungeroom''. Pacific Blue was offered, to which Packer, according to legend, exploded: ''That's a f---ing terrible title; we'll have to go with Water Rats.''
''Maybe we convinced him because the alternative was so bad but in the end it was the right title and it was a large part of its success,'' McElroy says. Water Rats became one of Packer's favourite shows.
Blue Heelers came from the nickname given to country cops, a detail passed on to McElroy shortly after Seven had rejected a pitch for a police drama set in the inner city. The concept was shifted to the country, rewritten, repackaged and christened Blue Heelers. ''Ten days later we had a show. It gave the show a unique spin, it said something, it made it a little different.''
Australia's two longest-running dramas, Neighbours and Home and Away, though structurally quite similar, tell different stories. Neighbours was originally titled One Way Street by creator Reg Watson, a moniker abandoned quickly for the much friendlier Neighbours. Home and Away was christened by then Seven Network head of drama Alan Bateman, who wanted the show to capture the essence of the words ''home and family''.
Survivor, Big Brother, Miami Vice, Hawaii Five-0: they are great titles; they immediately evoke a gotta-see-that feeling in an audience.
Seven's present drama boss, John Holmes, manages one of the most successful drama portfolios in recent memory, including All Saints, City Homicide and Packed to the Rafters. Of Seven's two drama failures in the past decade - Marshall Law and Headland - both had title-related issues. Marshall Law was originally Leather and Silk, while Headland, conceived as a spin-off to Home and Away, was Campus, and later 12 Degrees South. The first title was abandoned because it focused too much attention on university life, the second because it was too close to the title of UK police series 10 Degrees North.
Holmes agrees change is risky. ''If you are thrashing around for a title, you should probably look more deeply at the concept,'' he says.
The best titles, such as Packed to the Rafters, come easily. ''It was simply a play on words, the Rafter family, because they were all under the same roof, packed in; it just gelled straightaway. With shows like that you spend no time at all on the title. We tossed it around, agreed it was the right one and moved on,'' he says.
City Homicide began as The Detectives, became The Squad and was, briefly, an amalgam of the two, Detectives: the Squad. ''Then we sat down and started to toss ideas around. We established that it was about homicide cops in the city and, bingo, City Homicide,'' Holmes says.
Perhaps the most obvious examples of perfect titling in recent memory are the US hits Desperate Housewives and Lost.
''When you think about it,'' Holmes considers, ''what else could you have called Lost?'' (The answer is Nowhere, the title of the first draft of the script, which was abandoned.)
The experience of Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry is even more instructional. Having been rejected outright by HBO, CBS, NBC, Fox, Showtime, and Lifetime, his pitch was picked up by US network ABC - but its executives wanted to change the title to either Wisteria Lane or The Secret Lives of Housewives. Cherry fought fiercely to keep his title - inspired by a comment made by his mother that many housewives ''live lives of quiet desperation'' - and few would disagree the title's resonance with the audience played a huge part in its successful launch.
In many cases, program creators and producers have to do a delicate dance with network executives who come to the table with either their own ideas or concerns that the existing title won't fit on the billboard.
Producer John Edwards had to fight for The Secret Life of Us.
''The network hated that title,'' Edwards says. It was briefly Fast Times, then Nine Lives (''We couldn't have a show on Ten called Nine Lives,'' he says) and finally the network relented. ''They said it was too long but we hung in,'' he says.
The show's subsequent success speaks for itself.
Edwards also produced critically acclaimed cable drama Love My Way. Its original title: Is This It?
''The network thought that was too negative and we kept going round and round in circles and [writer] Louise Fox came up with Love My Way and we went, OK, does anyone have anything better?'' he recalls.
In a similar fashion, another of Edwards's dramas, Dangerous, was called Life of Crime until, in a meeting, Foxtel's director of television Brian Walsh said to Edwards he wanted the show to ''feel dangerous''.
His latest series, Offspring, gave Ten the jitters because its team felt the title was too closely associated with babies - the central character, played by Asher Keddie, is a paediatrician - ''but it became a question of how do you make the poster look and do you have a better title and it survived'', Edwards says.
''It's good to say, it looks good as a word, it sticks, it's going to be a good title.''
Edwards isn't convinced a great title makes a great show. He says a great show can sometimes anoint a title.
''They all become great titles when they're great shows. Whatever makes the show great will often make the title great. Whatever makes the show stick in your consciousness will make the title resonate.
''L.A. Law was a great title. ER was a great title. The greatest titles come from the simplest ideas,'' Edwards says.