Reality networks running more scripted shows

TLC announced it will launch its first scripted series, “Too Close to Home” by Tyler Perry, this summer. However, TLC isn’t the first reality-centric network to move into the scripted genre. E! and Bravo have made similar moves in recent years and the Discovery Channel also has several scripted shows in the works.

Are the networks shifting because as one Discovery exec mused at a recent press breakfast “real people are harder to control?”

Nancy Daniels, TLC’s General Manager, told the press at an event in New York City last week that the network was trying out scripted series because they think it’s a fit for their viewers.

“I think our core mission is to entertain. It’s a really cluttered environment in cable right now… We think we can connect with our audience with [scripted shows],” she said. “It’s really about the story lines and appealing [to our viewers].”

Simon Applebaum, host and producer of the online radio show Tomorrow Will Be Televised, explained many networks are jumping at the chance to get on the scripted series bandwagon.

“For example a network like Bravo or Discovery, they sort of see scripted as a natural way to expand their brand,” he said. “They are also trying to take advantage of the fact that scripted is white hot. Everybody wants to do it. There are so many ways to do it now. There are so many people that want to get in and do scripted television. The rise of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon has really raised the creative bar about what people can do.”

Brian Lowry, chief TV critic for Variety, believes the push for scripted shows speaks volumes about the success of scripted TV. Still, he expects reality shows will still be a big part of programming schedules going forward.

“This really has less to do with shying away from reality TV than the benefits associated with scripted hits,” he explained. “As we’ve seen, channels like AMC and FX have used scripted programs to brand themselves in very beneficial ways. Others have sought to get in on that, from History to Discovery. But that hardly means they’ll diminish their reliance on unscripted programs.”

However Wendy Whitman, a former TV executive and current script writer, thinks the reality networks move to scripted shows is a signal that viewers are bored of certain types of reality shows.

"...I believe people have tired of reality TV from the 'Bachelor' to 'Jersey Shore' to the Kardashians, it's been basically 'scripted reality," she explained. "I think people used to believe shows like the 'Bachelor' were totally off the cuff but now I think people are a bit more jaded and skeptical so the trend is towards scripted programming to point where  they're even turning things like OJ into a scripted show with actors."

NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment’s president of lifestyle networks Frances Berwick said scripted shows are a good fit for Bravo. The network greenlit its third scripted show, “My So Called Wife,” last month.

“Filled with intrigue and drama along with Bravo’s trademark wink and humor, this series is the perfect addition to the network’s slate as we continue our drive in the scripted arena,” he said in a statement. “This project builds upon the larger-than-life characters already populating Bravo in our scripted and unscripted fare, but is a world we could never do justice in reality, without the FBI subpoenaing us.”

E! has been making similar moves with “The Royals.” The network just announced a third season of the scripted show is in the works. In January, E! ordered 10 episodes of “The Arrangement,” their second scripted show.

Jeff Olde EVP of programming and development at E!, said at the time, “E! viewers have shown a strong appetite for scripted fare, and we look forward to building on the success of ‘The Royals’ with this exciting, new drama.”

It’s a crowded market with scripted shows, but Applebaum noted that cable networks have the opportunity present unique scripted series that fit their viewers interests.

“There is a sense that people want to see more unique forms of drama and comedy that feature complex characters and feature unique plots and sometimes have controversial subjects…” he explained. “That also plays into the scenario with networks like Bravo and TLC doing scripted, as well as unscripted television.”