Reality Check is a Deadline feature series covering the players, programs and trends in reality television.
At the end of the current 18th season of ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, executive producer Conrad Green will leave the show that he has been with since the start. After that many years, end of an era is no hyperbole. Not that the veteran producer and former head of BBC’s Factual Entertainment is getting out of the reality TV game: Green is joining Fox‘s upcoming social experiment reality series Utopia. The series features a group of everyday people who are planted in an isolated, undeveloped location for a whole year and forced to create their own civilization, flaws and all. With that big change coming, Green spoke to Deadline about what the essential skills for success in producing unscripted TV are, the state of singing competition shows and the arrival of Rising Star plus what he would bet on for the next big thing if he were a betting man.
DEADLINE: Big picture things first, what is the state of unscripted TV today?
CONRAD GREEN: I think it’s quite a mature market, at the moment. As in, lots of the big staples have been on air for quite a while. Feels like it’s time for a big, new show that’s completely different to arrive, you know? Competition reality performance shows have been going for quite a long time now, and are still, but aren’t as powerful as they once were, and it feels like it’s time for an innovation.
DEADLINE: Like your new gig Utopia?
GREEN: I think what Utopia has is it is really bold. It’s a very interesting way of telling a story, and it’s got a big vision and a big aspiration. So I would hope it will become that. I think the next big show is something that’s going to move the needle a little bit and make people look at fresher ways of telling stories on TV.
DEADLINE: Putting aside the years you worked on Dancing With The Stars for a moment, is Utopia going to require a different set of skills from you?
GREEN: Well, you need the same skills for any unscripted show, which is basically storytelling. The only difference is rather than completely creating the stories, you have to be able to respond to events, and to mold stories, and to present them in such a way that’s interesting for the audience.
So the storytelling aspect of it is the very first basic start, whatever your reality show is. Whether it’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Dancing With The Stars, Utopia. They appear very different, but in essence, you’re trying to work out how you can convey character, drama, and emotion. So when it comes to Dancing With The Stars and Utopia, at least for me, there are a lot more commonalities than most people would assume between the two.
DEADLINE: Having said that, Dancing With The Stars is one of those mature shows, having been on ABC since 2005. As you prepare to leave the show at the end of this season, how would you rate its future?
GREEN: I think the future for Dancing looks pretty healthy. I think that’s partly because we’ve got a really strong core audience, and I think if you’re running one of these kind of shows, you have to be mindful of your core audience and surprise them, but not try to do too many things that take away from what they actually loved about the show. That’s a very difficult balancing act, which sometimes you’re more successful with and sometimes less so.
I think the singing-competition show is a very crowded space at the moment. Obviously, Rising Star is coming over the summer. It’s going to be interesting to see how much tolerance the audience has. In general, because it feels like a very tried and examined area.
DEADLINE: Where does that leave the networks, who have invested so much of their schedule and returns in such shows?
GREEN: I think the networks will be presented with a problem when this generation of shows does finally go off air, because they do tend to take up quite a lot of hours of airtime, they’re relatively cost effective, and replacing them with comedies and dramas, which have such a low hit rate, is pretty problematic. I think, also, audiences are used to having a healthy mix of unscripted and scripted and competition and comedy and stuff. I think that they don’t really want that balance to change. It seems like there is this sort of a perfect blend to be had there.
DEADLINE: Waving a magic wand, what would you suggest?
GREEN: I think what really needs to happen is one or two new reality methods of storytelling to emerge. Whether that’s via cable or on network, it needs to allow people to look at fresher formats. To rework things and to have a bit of a breath of fresh air into the overall area.
DEADLINE: Sounds like you’re recommending half reinventing the wheel.
GREEN: Unscripted TV has been running off the same storytelling techniques for quite a long time now. It was very interesting seeing The Voice, which is really the last big hit that there’s been on network. That relied on applying sort of a game-show front to a relatively well-known middle and end. And the game-show front is a very clever way in – a very well produced way in that makes it feel unique. But it will be interesting to see, given the amount of exposure that show is having, how long it will be able to keep up that level of interest.
DEADLINE: So, what’s the next step?
GREEN: Often technology is the thing that leads big changes in the industry. You know, it was nonlinear editing that allowed a lot of the shows that we see now to physically be made, and it was the use of digital video and digital cameras that allowed the content to get to screen cost effectively and quickly. So looking at the importance of technology, it feels like the explosion in cell phones or cameras and that kind of stuff hasn’t quite been worked into it yet.
You could, in theory, have a million people with cameras out contributing material to a show that could play on one level on TV, at one level on an app on your phone and also grabbing hold of the kind of audience that aren’t really watching TV much anymore, at least on a network level. I think this is the next area, how can we get that technology into TV, and I think that, potentially, is a place where you can really change the nature of what’s on.
DEADLINE: Why haven’t we seen that show yet?
GREEN: I think because people haven’t cracked how to make something work on many platforms at once in a way that’s satisfying on each of them, even if you only interact on one of them. So, I think, if I were a betting man, I would be putting my work into that.
Deadline's Dominic Patten - tip him here.