Television Academy discusses “The State of Reality TV 2023” in North Hollywood

The Television Academy hosts a panel discussion titled "The State of Reality TV 2023." (Screenshot: Television Academy webcast)

North Hollywood, Calif. — On Tuesday, Jan. 31, the Television Academy hosted a panel discussion titled “The State of Reality TV 2023” at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood, Calif. It featured top decision makers from broadcast television, cable TV and streaming platforms.

This year, the panelists discussed challenging times with consolidation and budgets being tightened. Also, what are the new trends and fresh opportunities  for unscripted television? The discussion was moderated by Bob Boden, executive producer of celebrity game show, “Funny You Should Ask.”

The panelists included:

  • Cori Abraham, Senior Vice President, Development, Unscripted, NBC Universal Television and Streaming
  • Lauren Anderson, Head of AVOD Original Content and Programming, Amazon Studios
  • Brie Miranda Bryant, Senior Vice President, Original Programming, Lifetime
  • Nina L. Diaz, President of Content and Chief Creative Officer, Paramount Media Networks & MTV Entertainment Studios
  • Tiffany Faigus, Senior Vice President, Unscripted and Alternative Entertainment, ABC Entertainment and Walt Disney Television Alternative
  • Nat Grouille, Vice President of Unscripted Series, Netflix
  • Howard Lee, President of Discovery Networks & TLC
  • Allison Wallach, President, Unscripted Programming, FOX Entertainment

Moderator Boden: “We’re going to try to stay on the future tonight. What the state of reality is this coming year. But there are things to learn from the past so we’re going to cover lessons we’ve learned from last year and in the past before last year. In 2022, what were your hits and misses of the past year?”

Cori Abraham: “A couple of hits, which we’re really excited about on Peacock, obviously. ‘True Crime’ tends to still do really, really well on streaming. So ‘Casey Anthony’, which came out towards the end of last year. We have ‘The Amber Alert,’ which is out recently. Still our hits are ‘Snapped’ if you believe it. There’s been over 500 episodes of women who have snapped and killed their husbands. We’ll take it. Brie worked on it at one point. Some of our misses, when we do titles that don’t necessarily pop.”

Lauren Anderson: “At Amazon, we don’t share data. But ‘Judy Justice’ is huge for us. Judge Sheindlin has been the rock star of television for a really long time. I think we were really excited to be able to bring her over to streaming and it’s just really delivered for us. And then Jeff Lewis, it’s been great to have him back on TV, and the audience has really responded to that show. And then I think we did some really fun things for the holidays so ‘Sue’s Baking Challenge Squish,’ those really worked for us in December.”

Screenshot: Television Academy webcast

Brie Miranda Bryant: “We had one really big that I’m super proud of and so are my colleagues at Lifetime and it was the Janet Jackson documentary. So that one was a little over five years in the making of which we funded production and did not have a contract in place, which is something that I would not recommend.  One of the things Cori used to say was, ‘Are you going to take a bullet for it?’ And for Janet, I was like, I’ll take a bullet for Janet Jackson. It was 21.6 million viewers and the downloads went crazy for Janet.”

Nina L. Diaz: “We had a great year. We’re really fortunate. We were able to double down on our hit franchises and make them global hit franchises. We had number ones with some of our partners here. ‘Jersey Shore Family Vacation’ still continues to kill it. That spawned ‘Shores All Over the World.’ Most recently, we had great success with ‘Rio Shore’ and ‘Acapulco Shore.’ And then the phenomenon of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ which continues to kill it.”

Tiffany Faigus: “Whenever we get a chance to look back and see that we launched something new is sort of a win in the broadcast business. I think I look back at last summer and launching ‘Claims to Fame’ as a new original in the space of that play along Celebrity Big Brother-type format was really exciting, which will be coming back. Launching ‘Generation Gap with Kelly Ripa’ was really exciting for us. And I think selfishly, just because I lived with it for many, many years, doing something in the Disney IP is really just a privilege. So ‘Beauty and the Beast’, a 30th celebration, just seeing that cast come together, seeing the company rally around it, was really just an incredible thing to be a part of.”

Nat Grouille: “We’re just getting started and we were lucky enough to bring back some fan favorites ‘Love is Blind’, ‘Too Hot to Handle’, ‘Drive to Survive,’ which is our male soap did really well for us. And then I think ‘Selling Sunset’ continues to deliver in a really good way. I do want to talk about the misses. We had a big or a miss that I regret, which is called ‘Dance Monsters.’ People say you shouldn’t work with children and animals and I’d add digital avatars to that probably. But yes, it didn’t find the audience we wanted it to.”

Howard Lee: “Well, let me count the ways. There was a monster hit and was in its 10th season and almost 11th on TLC. And we couldn’t believe what it did. It was gargantuan, and it was ‘Sister Wives’ on Sunday nights. If you re not familiar with ‘Sister Wives’, it’s a gentleman by the name of Kody Brown, with his three wives, polygamist family. And that always followed our gargantuan ’90-Day Fiancé’ on Sundays and Mondays. For Discovery Channel, I’m going to say the continuing big hit is ‘Gold Rush,’ number one with men outside of sports. We do a lot of medical shows, and one show just didn’t work. We care a lot about what we look like and we have hair impairments, and something’s wrong with our hair. And it was a show called ‘Bad Hair Day.’ Nobody came. Maybe it was just cutting too close to home.”

Screenshot: Television Academy webcast

Allison Wallach: “I’m going to stay away from misses but as Nat pointed out, we’ve had a few. But I think the hit for us was really ‘Next Level Chef.’ It was finding a new format for Gordon Ramsay. He’s sort of unstoppable. And we kind of thought, what could you do with him that you haven’t seen? And that was sort of an exciting launch for us and. Being able to set that up and then have the UK go and do their version of it was probably our biggest hit.”

Moderator Bob: “We want to talk about trends. Reality has been around in its current incarnation now for more than two decades. And there have been different waves of reality. We’ve had highlights and lowlights of competition shows, docuseries, documentaries. But it’s a world that continues to evolve. What current trends you can identify in the non-scripted space?”

Lauren Anderson: “I guess what I would say is, as I’m thinking about trends, I would really more think in terms of on the Amazon side, just what our customers are responding to. We have to be focused on, what does it feel like that Amazon audience, whether that’s on Prime Video or Freeze, really want. I think on the Prime Video side, documentaries of any sort. ‘LuLaRich’ was a big hit, I don’t want to call it surprising hit for us. When you’re a streaming service and it really is about what is that next-up recommendation, what does that look like. The content that we’re developing is really about capitalizing on that.”

Brie Miranda Bryant: “For us in cable, I think it’s a little bit different. It definitely has to do with choice and discoverability, which is getting more and more challenging. One of the things that we did at Lifetime was go into the documentary space. What were able to do was eventize tentpole programming in the space. When I think about documentaries being the new thing that everybody wants, it was like the jinx. And then it was ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ and then it was ‘Tiger King.’ And all of those had legal implications as well.”

Howard Lee: “You’ve got to be incredibly honest with what we are now making and creating. That’s a huge trend that just keeps increasing year after year after year In an audience. I don’t accept that. I’m turning that off, it’s not real. That’s a big one that just the stakes are higher every year about that honesty and about making sure you’re getting it right, and you’re telling a person’s story right. Because you could feel it, you know when it’s not real. I think that’s a big trend, at least for the Discovery networks and for TLC. The other trend that’s going on and I’m trying to help a lot of the producers out there, is you don’t always have to go out, you don’t always have to go out and make these huge tapes or make money. I find that so much internal development even happens now at a network.”

Screenshot: Television Academy webcast

Moderator Bob: “Do you think the cry for authenticity has something to do with social media that there’s so many more critics out there now than there used to be?”

Howard Lee: “The moment something airs, it’s out there. An opinion is formulated immediately. Even when a press announcement happens, an opinion formulates immediately.”

Nina Diaz: “And also with TikTok and others, you’re experiencing content, where there’s no filter, there’s no producer and it’s very real. It’s very honest, it’s very in the moment. Then, you have a whole generation that they’re very aware of the tropes.”

Cori Abraham: “As I said, the other thing about trends that’s interesting is, when I think about it, it’s in terms of how people consume content is very different than it was 5, 10 years ago. And so it used to be trends is like, how can I get people to stop the channel as they’re flipping through, where now everything has to be designed for people to go get it. Everything has to either have something recognizable that is like ooh, I think I know something about that, but I want to know more. Like, ooh, Jeff Lewis is back on. Let me go check out Jeff Lewis. They’re going to get content whenever they want it.”

Allison Wallach: “Yeah, authenticity 100 percent. And in broadcast, I think of nostalgia. ‘Night Court,’ it’s a scripted show, but that number said a lot, I think, for us. As well as, all the shows on ABC and CBS. ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ these shows doing really well. All of a sudden, you realize you have to be a little intuitive about it. I think people want some comfort food. So we’re definitely leaning into that because we’re hearing it.”

Watch “The State of Reality TV 2023” on the Television Academy’s website at:

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