Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Marlon Wayans: Celebrity Reality. Inside the Successful Launch of a Reality Production Company / Updated

It’s no secret: celebrity cuts through the clutter on the TV schedule:

  • That applies to documentaries: Nat Geo Channel just announced projects with David Letterman, Adrien Brody, Ron Howard and others.
  • As well as to Reality TV.

Marlon Wayans is the $1Bn+ box office earner who successfully launched the Reality production company, Workaholics Entertainment.

  • Workaholics earned its 1st US network primetime commission in Spring 2015.
  • Their NBC show I Can Do That was a summer hit.
  • Building on that success, Universal TV just announced a Scripted/Unscripted deal with Wayans and his partners.
  • Marlon also EP’d the 2015 Slamdance documentary award-winner Sweet Micky for President.

Marlon’s Reality business partner is our great friend Steve Harris.

We caught up with Marlon and Steve, as well as Sweet Micky producer Pras Martel of the Fugees, and director Ben Patterson, and we updated the post this week.


Read Stephen Harris’s valuable Five Takeaways on how to develop and pitch a Reality TV hit. He shares the insider information that has helped power Marlon’s leap from Reality TV startup to an NBC summer hit and now a Universal TV partnership.

Buy and download here: Only $19:95.


  • Marlon Wayans’ career began in feature films and scripted television, from In Living Color to Scary Movie.
  • He has starred in, produced or written features that have collectively grossed over $1bn at the box office.
  • These include the films his brother Keenen directed: Scary Movie, Little Man & White Chicks.
  • As “the guy who can do everything,” he does just that: write/act/direct/produce.

I can

Move Into Reality

  • He founded Workaholics Entertainment with Steve Harris and Rick Alvarez in order to expand his comedic talents into the booming Reality TV category.
  • Their first greenlight was Funniest Wins, launched on TBS in Summer 2014.
  • Marlon attributes his success to his personal engagement with his colleagues and fans, through pitching ideas himself, and by developing an active social media presence.
  • Marlon is determined to find and foster the next generation of comedic talent.
  • We caught up with Marlon during a NY visit. Excuse the poor lighting.
  • Here, Marlon tells us why he became involved in Workaholics and the Reality genre.

Six Career Achievements

  • He joined the cast of the hit Fox sketch show In Living Color.
  • At 18, Marlon co-starred with his brother Damon in his first feature film, Mo Money.
  • At 19, co-wrote, co-produced & co-starred with his brother Shawn in the feature, Don’t Be A Menace.
  • He co-starred and co-produced with Shawn over 100 episodes of the WB series The Wayans Brothers.
  • Has starred in produced and or written features that have collectively grossed over $1bn at the box office. These include the films his brother Keenen directed: Scary Movie, Little Man & White Chicks.
  • He has 1.8+ million Twitter followers.

You can read more about Marlon Wayans’ career here.


  • Steve spent five years in program development at TLC and A&E.
  • Prior to that, he was director & showrunner of nonfiction programs.
  • After leaving Howard University, he directed/produced music videos for ten years.
  • He heads Nonfiction for Workaholics Entertainment, a partnership with Marlon.

Masterclass Partner

  • Steve is a charismatic co-presenter at my workshops on the drivers of success in Reality TV.
  • We led masterclasses at Realscreen, Sunnyside, AIDC, Westdoc, Hot Docs, and more.

Obama or Wayans?

  • In May 2012, Steve left A&E’s New York development office to establish Workaholics Entertainment, a Reality TV production company with Marlon and his production partner Rick Alvarez.
  • Steve had been offered a position by the Obama reelection campaign to shoot short videos and commercials.
  • He respectfully declined the Obama team offer to instead focus his full attention on his new partnership with Marlon.

Inside Advantage

  • Steve was confident that he possessed an edge: the highly-valued experience of how networks develop and greenlight programs from the inside.
  • His friendship with Marlon dates back to film school at Howard University.
  • “When I decided to set up a production company with him, it was ‘Now! Or Maybe Later.’
  • I decided: ‘Let’s start now!’”

Why with Marlon?

  • “Marlon works hard and is always pushing himself to grow.”
  • “He is one of the most consistently successful writer/producers/creators/actors in the global Film and TV business, and I had no doubt that working together we could replicate the same magic in Reality TV.”
  • “Marlon was committed to creating a real Reality business: This was not going to be a ‘celebrity vanity’ project.”
    • “That means creating a healthy slate of 15+ projects in development.”
    • “It also means that we are strategically interacting with our CAA agent Rosanna Bilow to identify the best networks to present each project.”
  • “Another motivating factor was that the fiercely competitive TV industry relies more than ever on celebrities to cut through the clutter.”
  • “And the demand for known talent translated into opportunity for Marlon.”

LA Move

  • Steve moved to LA from New York. While he set up Workaholics, he worked as the Supervising Producer for Mary Mary on WEtv.
  • “It was very surreal to leave my office job at A&E on Friday in NY and be directing on set of Mary Mary the next Monday.”
  • “Working the front lines of production again was like riding a bike, a little wobbly the first few hours, but then you get right back into the groove, and it’s exhilarating!”

The Set-Up / Workload

  • “We minimized overhead. It was a lean, mean machine, comprised only of myself, Marlon, Rick Alvarez and an admin assistant.”
  • “We meet or interact at least 4 days a week, crafting ideas and creating presentation materials.”
  • “In the first year, we developed and self-funded three concept sizzle tapes.”
  • “The out of pocket cost was about $10,000 each.”
  •  ““We only pitched two shows in 2013: a Comedy concept along with a Science Fiction concept that we packaged with Mark Burnett.”
  • “Our aim was to lead with our strongest two concepts, secure a deal, and then use the momentum to expand the pipeline in Year 2.”

No More “Spray and Pray!”

  • “Our initial development effort was a little too much “Spray and Pray.”
  • “We developed some really great concepts, but some of them were not “on brand.”
  • “We realized that this was an inefficient use of our time, and that it muddied our strengths in Comedy.”
  • “We refocused our development effort on projects that were aligned with our brand strength, which is Comedy.”

Comedy Elimination

  • “Marlon wanted to do a Comedy Elimination show.”
  • “We had to differentiate ourselves from the leader in the genre, Last Comic Standing (NBC).”
  • “We screened all the elimination shows in every category, everything from Project Runway & Top Chef to Next Top Model and American Idol.
  • “We deconstructed them to find a unique approach for Marlon, and we came up with Funniest Wins.”
  • “Marlon agreed to be the face and the host of Funniest Wins, although his role on camera is not a prerequisite for our ideas.”
  • “We realized that the successful format for our comedy show would be more like Project Runway, revealing the process and construction of the act before it is presented on stage, and less like American Idol, where the competitors face off against each other.”
  • “Our concept was a blend of Last Comic Standing and Project Runway.”


Refining the Concept

  • “We spent two months writing and reworking the concept.”
  • “We created a ten-episode treatment of around 15-20 pages.”
  • “We only pitched the detailed treatment to potential production partners, but not in the network presentations.”
  • “The detail gave us the confidence and passion to freestyle our pitches.”

Marrying Up

  • “As a startup, we needed to join with a major producer who created successful elimination shows.”
  • “We focused on positioning ourselves with two of the best production companies in the business: Mark Burnett and Eyeworks.”
  •  “We met with Mark Burnett’s head of development, David Eilenberg.”
  • “Eyeworks had created Biggest Loser and they were eager to partner with us. We agreed on a very fair deal.”
  • “With Eyeworks or Burnett, we knew that we could gain access to every network.”

The Sizzle

  • “We created a two-minute presentation tape and a PPT.”
  • “Eyeworks produced it in-house: they filmed Marlon discussing the concept and used found footage.”
  • “We accepted an offer from broadcast network CW to fund a presentation tape.”
  • However, several months later, CW passed on the show.

TBS Calls

  • “TBS, was setting up a non-fiction department and hired Burnett’s head of development, David Eilenberg to run the new division. He was a fan of Marlon and our comedy competition show concept since we had pitched it to him while he was at Burnett. The timing was right at TBS because they wanted to expand their commitment to Reality.”
  • “They initially committed to a presentation tape as proof of concept.”
  • “TBS greenlit eight episodes, which premiered in summer 2014.”
  • “Workaholic was out of the blocks!”

Brand Factor

  • As Workaholics reviewed and developed concepts, Marlon refined his understanding of how he was going to build the “Marlon Wayans” brand.
  • “We focused our attention on creating Comedic concepts and doc-soaps that have both format & franchise potential.”
  • Tyra Banks is a good role model: she created a global brand from her TV series Top Model.”

2015 Projects: An NBC Commission

  • The small Workaholic team is actively developing and shopping nonfiction concepts that have a comedic core element.
  • Last month, Workaholic earned its 1st primetime commission on US network TV.
  • The show on NBC is I Can Do That (wt).


Update: It’s a Summer Hit!
“Airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. behind “America’s Got Talent” (11.09 million viewers overall), the series premiere of “I Can Do That” (6.40 million viewers overall) became the highest-rated summer launch in 18-49 since CBS’ “Under the Dome” nearly two years ago. It was easily the timeslot’s top series in 18-49 — matching the combined scores of shows on ABC and CBS — and finished behind only “Talent” among the week’s top series.” Variety

NBC / Universal Deal

Reality Development Secrets:


Read Stephen Harris’s valuable Five Takeaways on how to develop and pitch a Reality TV hit. He shares the detailed insider information that has helped power Marlon’s leap from Reality TV startup to an NBC summer hit and now a Universal TV partnership.

Buy and download here: Only $19:95.




  • @workaholics_ent
  • @MarlonWayans

Editorial Assistance: Eric Ingram