Our experience has been - if you ditch the suburbs and keep a blog with a contact page you be approached by a Production Company wanting to put you on TV. What do you do when that happens?
We left our typical suburban life in September 2010. Since then we have been contacted by 10-12 different production companies working on some sort of show.
We’ve considered the idea carefully. We’ve probably over-thought it. And we’ll tell you our decision.
First we wanted to capture our thought process behind evaluating these offers in hopes it might help you on your own post-suburban journey.
Here’s a sampling of the pitch emails we have gotten:
World-Traveling Families Needed!
My name is ________ and I work in the Casting & Talent Development Department at _______________ in Burbank, CA. We are a television production company that produces many hours of on-air programming. I have included a link to our company website that you can take a look at.
Part of my job is to cast current projects that our company is producing, and the other part is Talent Development, which means I am always in search of unique, compelling, entertaining and authentic talent that our company can build a television series around. Currently, we are developing a TV project about families that are traveling around the world with their children. From what I can see on your website, it seems you and your family are doing just that.
I was wondering if you would be interested in speaking with us about this project.
New TV show looking for awesome families living in awesome places!
Hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you. I came across your cool blog and thought you might have an interest in a TV show I’m working on.
My name is _______ and I’m a casting associate producer with ____. We’re a full scale television production company that creates a number of programs for various cable networks, such as (name dropping removed).
Suburban Sheep Shirt
If you have the same slightly sarcastic sense of humor as we do this may be the shirt for you. This design is both a commentary on suburban living and a declaration of your intent to leave it.
Styles available: t-Shirts,and hoodies.
Colors available: black, royal blue, navy blue.
We’re looking for vibrant and outgoing folks who are ready to show off their unique homes and designs.
Whether you live on the road, on the water, underground, or in a one-of-a-kind home, we want to hear from you and what makes your life special!
Original Programming Concept
My name is ______, I am with ______. We are an award-winning TV production company specializing in documentary work. Our newest project celebrates nomadic living, specifically families on the road and how they are making it work. The project dives into why people are choosing to raise their kids on the road, the benefits and the challenges.
Our goal is to find 3-4 diverse and unique families who are living nomadically to feature on the show. We are looking for families who are passionate about nature and have a clear philosophy for choosing a life on the road AND want to share their passion for their lifestyle with others through the show.
We’d love to set up some time to talk with you about the project.
Hello from _____ Productions!
Hi, Boyink Family!
My name is -____ and I work for _____ Productions in Los Angeles. We produce the television series ____ on CNBC and ___ on E!
I’m casting a pilot for The Travel Channel about families who live in RV’s full time, and I’m interested to find out more to see if your family might be a good fit for us. We’re shooting in the beginning part of December in the Los Angeles area. I’d love to chat with you ASAP if TV is something that interests you!
Thank you very much!
When you get one of these emails the first thing to understand is the different players involved.
Starting at the top there is the Network who would air a final show.
Under the network is the Production Company, an independent entity who actually scripts, records, edits and produces the show.
The production company is also behind casting the Talent for the shows - namely, you.
Production companies develop TV show ideas on their own. Once the idea is in place they look for talent and produce a sample episode or “pitch reel”.
The pitch reel is shown to Network executives as part of a sales process. If the Network likes it they will buy a certain number of episodes of the show and full-on production will begin.
If the network doesn’t like it the production company will shop it around to different networks.
If they can’t find a network to buy the show the production company will drop the idea and move on to the next one.
I admit - initially it was fun to be contacted. It told us that our blog was being read and found. It also told us that our decision to ditch the suburbs was interesting enough to possibly be put on TV.
Once that initial reaction had passed, however, we started to think through what being on a show would involve and a number of factors came to mind:
ScheduleIf you decide to be part of the show you will need to have at least a few weeks where your life can accommodate a production crew. If you are a traveling family this will impact your ability to travel as you like. Can your schedule flex to meet the demand?
LogisticsTV production requires a crew of at least 3-4 people. Can your RV, boat, or tiny house fit that many more bodies? Can you tolerate having that many more people invading your personal space?
AttentionThe show will want to feature you in places other than your dwelling. Will you enjoy being out in public spaces, with a film crew around you, attracting the attention of anyone else around you?
SafetyDo you have young children? If so, what would it mean for perfect strangers to “know” them and be able to call them by name?
JudgmentThe TV show will show up online in places where comments are open to the general public. Are you sensitive to being judged about how you live and raise your kids?
ExposureWould your family benefit from the added exposure? Or would it be a distraction with little positive benefits?
PersonalityLook at the language the pitch emails use in describing the talent they seek - vibrant, outgoing, entertaining, passionate. Is that you?
The main thing to think about when Hollywood calls is: Who has the power?
The power to:
- Tell your story.
- Choose between it being a “reality” or “documentary” show.
- Portray you as good adventurous parents or reckless fools.
- Portray your family as close Christians or as dysfunctional people of no faith.
- Name, brand and market the show.
Tip: It isn’t you.
You will have no control over the final presentation.
What if your kids actually do say the darnedest things (while they are being interviewed without you present)? What if that small disagreement with your spouse ends up being 1/2 of an episode?
- The purpose of a TV network is to sell advertising.
- Selling ads requires eyeballs to view those ads.
- Getting eyeballs requires drama.
- If your family isn’t inherently dramatic, drama will be created for you.
None of the 8-10 production companies that contact us ever mentioned compensation. I assume that we would be paid but am unclear if that would only happen if the show was picked up.
If you pursue one of these leads make sure to find out if being part of the Pitch Reel is a paid gig or not.
Don’t get dollar signs in your eyes by watching radically successful shows like Duck Dynasty. While they are certainly making money the Roberston family doesn’t own that brand. It’s owned by A&E who produces the show.
The crazy thing is that out of all these inquiries over the last 5 years - to our knowledge - no show has ever gotten picked up.
Here’s a post from our friends the Ticknors who put a pitch reel together that they never got to see.
Our friends the Schaefers put together a pitch reel and it never went anywhere. The Schaefers were upset that some of their core purposes for traveling were cut from the pitch reel.
In our initial years of travel we decided to pass on a TV show appearance because we didn’t see any greater purpose for it. We weren’t traveling to promote a cause or greater good.
With the last inquiry we thought about it more seriously. We thought it might be a way of promoting the Ditching Suburbia book and related products. After getting some consulting on how the TV networks manage intellectual property (if they commission it they own it) we decided to pass.
You are writing a new story for your family. The world may strip away your belongings, your wealth, and your fame.
Your story is all you truly own. Don’t sell it cheaply.
TV’s reach is shrinking. It’s easier then ever before to produce your own videos and find your own audience online. It might be a smaller audience, but it will be your audience.
Do you really want all of the efforts you’ve taken to ditch the suburban life to line the pockets of some TV network executive?
Our plan is to begin doing video posts here on Ditching Suburbia. We’re still figuring out what that looks like - so if you have ideas or comments let us know!
Have you been contacted by a production company wanting to put your family on TV? What was your response?