Starting your own Reality TV prodco

Reality TV is all about the idea and the relationships that will get it made and shown. The Renaissance Hotel in our nation’s capital during Realscreen Summit was dense with ideas and relationships.  If this idea won’t work for you, then how about this one?

So if all it takes is the idea, access to the onscreen talent and a great pitch/sizzle reel, then it looks like it could be easy.  So lots of producers strike out on their own to start their own production companies. Thom Beers (now CEO of Fremantle N. America), is a giant in the field, whose personal credits include Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men and Storage Wars.  His advice: when you start a business “if you have any other skills keep on using them.  I lived off my voice-over fees for 7 years” when he started his firm Original Productions.  You can hear him on the pilot for 1000 Ways To Die. “To get into it you have to want it,” says Beers. “It’s a journey not a destination.”  He recommends starting out as a PA and moving up through the ranks to coordinator and then on upwards.

Which is exactly what the rambunctious SallyAnn (SA) Salsano did.  She interned on Howard Stern’s show and worked her way up on Sally Jesse Raphael.  After rising to Producer on The Bachelor and Trista and Ryan’s Wedding, she started her own company and gifted the world the joys of Jersey Shore – inspired by her own Italian-American Long Island background.  Her company is named 495, for the Long Island Expressway. 

Even with her deep experience she says, “I always zero out on Season One. I make no money on it.  It’s my calling card.  But then you have to hope you get to make Season Two” – which in her bitter experience doesn’t always happen!   

“On Jersey Shore, the network would only pay for 24 cameras – but I shot with 46.  And they wouldn’t pay for the helicopter shots but I did them anyway and cut them in – if they wanted to use them I would make them pay for them.  Otherwise I’d have some nice footage for something else.”

“People complain that we are giving direction, making story suggestions to the talent.  Well of course we set things up – we have to make our days and the network won’t pay for any more days so we have to make it happen.”

“When I started the business” SA told Summit attendees, “I didn’t take a paycheck for a year. When you make your first fee – you put it all back into the business. If I’d have known how hard it would be – then out of fear I wouldn’t have done it.

And even when you hit it big “You’re only as good as your last show: so what’s your next one?”