Sports Entertainment Summit Shows Reality Does Not Bite

By Steve Harvey

Last week’s SVG/Variety Sports Entertainment Summit, held at the Sofitel Los Angeles, featured a discussion of the convergence of reality TV and sports, so who better to sit on a panel contemplating the Convergence of Reality and Traditional Sports than Bruce Jenner? Now familiar to youngsters as the paternal head of the Kardashian household, Jenner is known to older generations for relinquishing his amateur status in 1976 in order to parlay his record-breaking Olympic decathlon gold medal success into celebrity endorsements, most famously as a Wheaties spokesman.

Jenner noted, the convergence started a long time ago, with ABC’s “Up Close and Personal” segments during the network’s 1972 Games coverage. “I really started my career in reality sports television,” he recalled, signing on with ABC and Howard Cosell in 1976.

Jenner has continued that career trajectory and now stars in “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” “Reality television is not that easy to do,” he observed. “You have to have the right people involved.”

But if all the stars align—and the cast is likeable and interesting—audiences can have an insatiable curiosity for what goes on behind-the-scenes. “There seems to be a lot of room to do these shows,” commented David Eilenberg, head of development for Mark Burnett Productions, noting the proliferation of specialty channels and their thirst for 24/7 content.

MLB’s VP, Programming and Business Affairs Elizabeth Scott concurred: “Premium access is really what fans are looking for.” Scott offered some insight into balancing privacy issues with access during production of HBO’s “Derek Jeter 3K” and “The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants” for Showtime. “A huge part of being able to get that access is trust,” she noted.

ICM’s Head of Broadcast and Media Nick Khan, said sports reality programming can be interesting and profitable. But challenges include making it cost effectively and repeatable. “Most of the networks want something that’s more evergreen,” to run and rerun, he advised. “That’s been a little difficult to figure out.”

For athletes, it’s a chance to get their image out, observed panel moderator Stuart Levine of Variety. Absolutely, agreed Scott, and Jeter also saw the opportunity for memorializing his achievements for his personal archives: “He said, ‘I just want a copy of this.’”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the Sports Entertainment Summit II.