How the sausage of Reality TV gets made (part 1)

 From Making of the Hutterites – POV, by Jeff Collins (with emphasis added):

I’d never heard of a Hutterite before, I was familiar with Amish and Mennonites but not Hutterite. Trever kept telling us how open and friendly they were and how much they like to have a good time, which certainly didn’t hurt given previous experiences, I’d had been visiting Amish families who were all lovely but weren’t nearly as open. Everybody in my office thought I was crazy, but I gambled on this one and gave Trever and his producing partners a sizzle reel budget and sent them off to get the goods with a strict outline of what we needed them to bring back. I knew instinctively the Hutterites wouldn’t necessarily trust me or any other ” Hollywood types “ but Trever grew up with them and as far as they were concerned, he was just going to shoot some footage for a possible TV project. He was the kid the ladies bounced on their lap as a baby and the young man the men had taught how to hunt when he was a teen — he was family and our passport to their world. We drew up a very simple LOI [Letter of Intent] as a show of good faith and trusted we would be able to work out all the details if we found a buyer.

My plan worked. Trever, his dad and his two producing partners spent about a week with the Hutterites and really captured them in their natural state, being themselves, comfortable in their own skin and what we saw when the footage started coming in was pure magic. We cut the tape immediately, took it to market and had multiple offers. I decided to go with Nat Geo because of the brand and because of David Lyle. I’d met him several times before and found him to be a very enchanting, worldly, wickedly smart man. Mainly, I trusted him and I knew he would understand this material and treat it with the respect it deserved. Mind you, he wasn’t interested in me brining back stories about them growing corn, but he did understand that I didn’t want to do anything that the Hutterites might regret later. When we landed and were ready to shoot the atmosphere was very different. …

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From an interview with David Lyle in 2007 when he was President of the Fox Reality Channel, which Lyle led before he became CEO of the National Geographic Channel. (The Fox Reality Channel was later rebranded as Nat Geo Wild, which Lyle also oversees):

What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?
Something that is Reality (unscripted) entertainment and is loud. We unashamedly like the fun of reality. This is not an education channel. If you were watching something outrageous on TV and said “What the %#*^ is that?” we would like the answer to be The Fox Reality Channel.

What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?
We are keen to find our Observational Documentary style show…..The loud central character or characters in a fascinating world. … 

What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?

The cable diversity here in the US still comes as a surprise to outsiders. With the fragmentation comes the difficulty in getting noticed. Hence shows need something that can make them pop. In smaller, less fragmented TV markets sometimes all new shows get a fair amount of attention.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Bruce Gyngell advised when getting on a plane, “If you don’t turn left turn back”.

Ever given?
“Winners have parties, losers have meetings”. … 

What’s the smartest programming decision you have ever made?

Hiring Bob Boden to make the programming decisions here at Fox Reality Channel or buying into My Bare Lady by the time I had heard the second sentence of the pitch.

{The show My Bare Lady is about a group of U.S. porn stars who travel to London and attempt to establish acting careers on the West End stage. The program premiered on December 7, 2006.}

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Here’s David Lyle addressing the concerns raised by leaders of the Hutterite community (“Distorted and damaging and we feel betrayed…”) about the TV show Meet The Hutterites (letter dated June 22, 2012):

In effect, Mr. Lyle is saying to the Hutterites:
I control what’s said about you on my national TV network, 
but I’m willing to meet & discuss your concerns in private, behind closed doors.

For as David Lyle says:
“Winners have parties, losers have meetings.”

And given the TV ratings for Meet The Hutterites, it certainly looks like
producer Jeff Collins & CEO David Lyle will soon be throwing some parties:

 

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