Networks seek to cut reality show costs

June 2, 2008

Reality shows, begun in the 1970s, have long been considered the ultimate in low-cost television production. Now the networks are trying to cut the costs.

Producers are being urged to shoot shows faster than ever and use indoor settings to help reduce expenses, the “Hollywood Reporter” said.

Mark Cronin, producer of such VH1 hits as “Rock of Love” and “I Love New York,” said, “Every network is having its budgetary problems, and that’s being pushed back toward all content. So there’s a constant pressure to produce more for less.”

That pressure has now extended to lowest cost reality shows. “Networks want smaller budgets and more studio shows,” said Howard Owens, executive producer of NBC’s “American Gladiators” and FX’s “30 Days.” “They don’t want you to shoot for nine days an episode that you’ll have to edit for eight weeks.”

The rapid pace can affect a show’s quality, though it’s unclear whether audiences care. “Moment of Truth” became the highest-rated new show of the season. It essentially consists of two people sitting in chairs onstage.

In an era of grainy amateur videos on YouTube that receive millions of hits, the “Reporter” said just having a show shot by professionals seems to elevate the product above the qualitative waterline.

“Audiences seem to be very forgiving of what we used to think of as unspeakably low production values,” Cronin said.

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