This week I stepped outside of the art licensing box and jumped into the reality tv box to see how it worked. I was at the Factual Entertainment Forum in Santa Monica, CA on June 1st & 2nd, in the hopes of making connections to get my reality show idea on the air.  (If you didn’t see this before, you can learn more at or read my previous blog post, Who do you know?)

At times I was overwhelmed by new vocabulary or listening to panels of Executive VPs talk about what they were looking for and what it took for a show to make it to the airwaves.

There were times I was mesmerized listening to the people who made the shows I watch come to life – talking about how they find the “characters” – even though they are real world people they are certainly characters!  Don’t believe me?  Tune into any Real Housewives show on Bravo and you’ll get it within 2 minutes.

The forum opened with Gene Simmons and his family talking about their show – Gene Simmons, Family Jewels.  It was fascinating to hear about how they decided if they wanted to do it in the first place.  How would it affect their brand?  Would their fans like to see that Gene Simmons is a real guy with normal issues who apparently has some fuzzy, one-piece red pj’s complete with feet because he “gets cold!”.  Or would he mess up the shock-value brand he’s been building since starting Kiss?

At the end of the day, I realized I was listening to the same issues we all talk about on panels at art licensing trade shows and on blogs.  I also realized that the overwhelm I was feeling is probably what many of you feel just learning about the art licensing industry.

So what issues do they discuss in Reality TV that are the same as art licensing?


Well the first I already touched on – Gene Simmons had to decide if doing a show about his life would be good or bad for his brand. He decided to take the risk and it worked.  His brand is alive and well and the show is the longest running celebrity reality show on tv – debuting back in 2006.

Many people become brands by being on reality tv – look at the recent success of Bethenny Frankel who started out on The Real Housewives of New York, then had her own spin offs of Bethenny Getting Married? and Bethenny Ever After.  She recently sold her Skinny Girl Margarita alcohol line for an estimated $120 million.  The brand awareness has to have been in part, in not large part, due to her talking about it on her show every week.

The business success of Bethenny as a result of her shows on Bravo is changing how contracts work in the industry too.  Now people signing up to do shows will be giving up a percentage of any future business that comes as a result of the show.  Seems fair since many use reality tv as a platform to gain exposure and launch a line.  Ramona (Real Housewives of NY) is launching a Pinot Grigio wine, Renee from Mob Wives is launching an internet greeting card site for people to send mail to inmates – Jail Mail Inc – with a catchy tagline: Jail mail inc… We’re not incorporated we’re INCARCERATED!!!  Records are launched, books written and promoted, jewelry and hand bag lines, the list goes on and on.


There was a discussion about how many similar shows there are out there.  It sounded like our discussions – is it blatant cut-and-paste copying of art or similar inspiration?  This is all being debated in the reality tv world as well.

One panelist said, “You truly win by innovating, not by being the me-too show.  You need to be fast and first.”  In a way that is similar to what we are doing but it’s pretty hard to be first with Santa, coffee mugs or sea shells… you just need to be innovative in the way you do the subjects so often requested in licensing.


When is something tapped and when will an audience want more?  Are there enough Pawn shows on the air or is their room for more?  Sounds like us too – is the bird fad over or is there time to add it to the mix?

As in art, they talked about looking at trends in relation to their network brand.  While at lunch with someone from Bravo she said, “If Bravo did weddings, what would it look like?  It can’t look like another networks way.”  If they can’t figure out how a trend fits with their brand, they don’t incorporate it.


Budgets are tighter. Lead times are shorter. Working with less and trying to get more done. Sound familiar?

Social Media.

There were discussions about how the internet, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook were affecting traditional tv.  How could it be embraced and used to their advantage and what did it mean for them now and in the future?  When asked “where is the music?” an MTV exec said that they’d love to play music videos all day again if people would watch.  But viewers go to YouTube to see what they want when they want it.  MTV has to change their format or die.

There was an interesting conversation about “Reality Media” vs “Reality TV” and the fact that the stories, when true, are often being scooped by tabloids or passed around Twitter and FB months before the show airs.  How do they then, make the show relevant?


I find it fascinating to go listen and learn about other industries… and discover that the issues they face are very similar to those that we face.  The fun part is listening to how they handle and react to things and decide if that can work for my business too.

Will I have a reality show on tv?  Who knows!

Have I learned a lot about how the tv world works, both for pitching and tweaking my show and for my art business, you bet!

Only time will tell…

Here’s to your creative and ever evolving success!

– Tara Reed