Tru opportunity

Will the real reality show please stand up?
By NEELY STEINBERG  |  December 19, 2007

FRESH IDEAS Ryan Cauley (left) gambles on bookies; Nick Farago (right) hopes to dine underground in Seattle.
With scripted television in limbo thanks to the Writers Guild of America strike, network bosses have been relying on reality programming to soften the blow. But let’s face it: there are only so many phony B-list-celebrity dating romps and artificial elimination contests a person can stand before developing a nasty case of acid reflux. Agita aside, the timing couldn’t be better for Turner Broadcasting System to launch its new network: truTV (formerly CourtTV). Making its debut on January 1, truTV will target viewers who want first-person access to exciting, high-stakes, real-life stories. Its tagline, “Not Reality. Actuality,” is part of a TBS effort to re-brand “reality TV,” which nowadays has become something of a red herring. While several promising series are already in place for the network’s upcoming launch, truTV development executives wanted to broaden their search for programming ideas beyond the usual industry players. That hunt took truTV to academe.

As part of a two-stop college-pitch contest, network brass ventured to Boston University and Rutgers University this past week in an attempt to harness the creative power of youth. Participants had 15 minutes to wow decision-makers with their reality-show concepts. The contest winner will receive a development fee and the opportunity to work with truTV honchos to create a pilot or series. “College kids, especially those interested in careers in media, are very tapped in to new trends and ideas in popular culture,” said Lauren Gellert, Court TV/truTV’s vice-president of alternative programming. “Sometimes, the best ideas come from people who don’t have the experience of actually making shows, but just have the thoughts on what they would like to see on the air.”

When Garland Waller — an assistant professor of television at BU’s College of Communication, and a former special-projects producer at WBZ-TV — heard of truTV’s road-trip plans, she thought it was the “perfect, real-life opportunity” for students in her production course, and instantly made it part of the class’s final project.

Solco Schuit, a senior in Waller’s class, pitched a show called Band of Brawlers, which would document Friends Stand United (FSU), a controversial nationwide gang originally formed in Boston in the late ’80s and early ’90s as a violent response to neo-Nazis who had established a dominant presence at hardcore and punk-rock concerts. “They’re certainly no angels, and the stakes are always high for FSU guys. We’d follow their lives and gang activities, see where they’re from, go to the concerts and into the courtrooms, see how gang life has changed,” said Schuit, whose idea truTV lauded but ultimately passed on for being “too gritty.” Other ideas from BU students included Ryan Cauley’s Book It — a behind-the-scenes look at Las Vegas bookmakers — and Nick Farago’s Speak-Easy Supper, a show about the underground-restaurant scene in Seattle.

The winner of truTV’s college-pitch tour will be announced in spring 2008.

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