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How Do Networks Evaluate Pitches? Coverage Case Study: “O.C. Gaffer” 3/3

How do network decision-makers cover reality TV pitches?

A&E’s Stephen Harris shares his assessment of a memorable pitch from Craig ‘Burnie’ Burns at our 2011 Real Screen workshop.

This week:

  • Talent
  • Targeting networks
  • Production values of Burnie’s sizzle reel
  • Takeaways:
    • How good?
    • What Next?

In our previous “O.C. Gaffer” posts:


And here again is Burnie’s pitch:

Stephen continues his coverage …


The thing that Burnie’s concept has going for it most, is Burnie himself.

  • Burnie is a great character.
  • He is very memorable and immediately likeable.
  • Both in person and on tape Burnie makes a positive, lasting impression: And that’s the first of the long list of criteria that all development and casting executive use to evaluate potential.

Burnie’s denim tuxedo and goatee beard are his uniform.

  • They should be embraced like Dog the Bounty Hunter’s mullet and leather vest or Billy the Exterminator’s punk rocker hair and his spiked clothing accessories.

Burnie’s staff is also cool.

  • These characters can be developed as the series evolves.
  • The crew has diversity in age, race and gender.


The sizzle tape does not make a deliberate connection with specific channels that may be receptive to the series.

Burnie needs to do his homework.

There are a few U.S. networks that program Science, Travel or programs about the Entertainment industry.  So my first recommendation is to research the networks that cater to these areas of interest.

On the surface this industry may seem like a hard one for viewers to connect with. But when you think about it, the gaffer’s world actually has many relatable qualities that make it shop-able.

  • For example, the science and technology of lighting make it a project worth presenting to Science or SyFy.
  • The fact that his job moves locations all the time could make it a fun Travel Channel prospect.
  • The blue collar male aspect could make it suitable for History, Tru TV or even Spike.
  • Also to make it feel more History, play up the fact that you’re recreating famous lighting references and techniques.

Ad Sales
Network Ad Sales departments may actually enjoy having a show like “O.C. Gaffer” on the schedule because it can organically build products into the storyline.

In your pitch, it’s OK to acknowledge this potential, though I strongly recommend against dwelling on marketing as a selling point.

  • Programmers get very uncomfortable when they hear the pitch: ‘My show has twenty different ancillary cross-platform revenue streams.’
  • Marketing plans, celebrity cameos, foreign co-pros and big name production companies don’t guarantee the sale of a reality TV show. They often complicate the day-to-day work flows of programmers as well as their Legal / Business Affairs support.
  • Burnie’s pitch avoids this pitfall, but leaves the door open.
  • Great concepts, fantastic show titles and amazing characters are the ingredients that sell the shows that end up on big billboards on the side of a New York City bus!!!


If Burnie is going to sell this concept, he needs better tape.

  • The tape often feels ‘produced’: for example when Burnie calls his office manager from the set and asks her to drive over with a replacement bulb.

The sizzle needs an organic and natural docu-soap story arc.

  • For example, in this deadline-driven, creative line of work, I’d expect Burnie’s high end clients to be very big personalities themselves: demanding and sometimes downright offensive.
  • I want to see more of Burnie dealing directly with his clients in this high-pressure world.
  • I need to see more of how he does his job and how he runs his company.
  • I want to see more trials and tribulations of running the business: following Burnie as he handles a job from the start of planning with the client to the day of the gig.

The pep talk with his team at start of the shoot is cool, but as we mentioned previously, this gig is very ‘inside baseball.’

  • It only has a chance of working when Burnie demystifies what he does for a living.
  • Punch up ‘the stakes’ of getting each gig completed rather than Burnie’s dream of making it up in LA.
  • A great inspiration for a sizzle reel for a program like this would be the filming style of “Ax Men” or “Deadliest Catch.”
    • The texture and tone for these shows raises your adrenaline.
    • When I think ‘gaffers,’ I see guys balancing on tall ladders, scaling poles and hoisting huge lights up on to the scaffolding for a rock concert or into the rafters of an opera hall.
    • Bernie’s personality makes me feel like he and his team specialize in achieving the unachievable. I’d like to see more of that on the sizzle.


  • It’s best not to go over eight minutes.
  • Always be sure to pack it with all the elements that back up your important selling points.
  • The production value here is acceptable. It’s more than adequate to establish the concept and characters.
  • Burnie is a 1st time producer, and if the networks want to work with him, they will pair him up with an established producer.

Audience Reaction

At Real Screen, the tape made our audience laugh and smile. This is a very good thing!


The goal of the development exec is to figure out how to make a show work. Along the way, we sometimes realize that a concept can fall into one of three buckets:

  • The development team can add the secret sauce, the missing ingredient that will launch it from zero to sixty like rocket fuel.
  • Even in its best incarnation, this is a great idea that is just too small to fulfill our network rating quotas.
  • That we’re going to pass because the idea lacks the necessary elements to be pursued in its current state.

Burnie’s pitch is solidly in the 1st category.

  • Burnie assembled a product that deserves a meeting at many production companies and even a few networks.
  • It needs work to flesh out the supporting characters and to identify relatable stakes.
  • But it’s good enough to jump start the creative juices of a development executive whose job it is to figure it all out.
    • Burnie should work on structuring an elevator pitch which describes the concept of the show.
    • Burnie will then have to ‘marry up’ with a preferred producer who has the clout to pitch the channels and deliver the goods.
  • Burnie should probably not spend any more money on his tape before consulting with a production company or network executive for their advice on how to improve or tailor it for a specific brand.
  • They may decide to shoot a different sizzle tape that integrates my recommendations.



  • Our warmest thanks to the inspirational Burnie Burns for his pitch and for his meticulous follow up!
  • Here’s a link to the highly recommended Burnie’s Grip & Lighting



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New York State Bar Association
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“Anatomy Of A Hit Reality TV Series: The Pawn Stars Case Study”
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Rob Miller, Agent, Peleton Entertainment
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