The rise of reality television ignited a revolution that transformed the landscape of entertainment for a digital age driven by social media.
Dating back to cult classics like The Real World and Jersey Shore, to more recent hits like the Real Housewives and Love & Hip Hop franchises, seeing real people combat common conflict with an overdose of believable drama established a proven formula for sparking conversations and shifting culture. More notably, reality television introduced a cost-effective gold mine lucrative enough to redesign the longstanding business model adopted by linear networks. What began as a relentless search for intriguing stories starring opposing personalities transitioned into the development of heavily scripted storylines that walk a thin line between truth and satire.
As the industry quickly grew to surpass a billion dollar valuation, the emergence of reality empires became commonplace. Prominent producers like Mona Scott-Young have established multi-million dollar enterprises by following a simple template that has now become the studied standard. As a result, production houses remain on the hunt to create or discover the next standout show. Just as Uber and Snapchat are the unicorns of tech, the chase is on to identify and develop the next dominating reality series. However, the relationship between production company and creator exists as a one-sided transaction, instead of an even exchange. Exciting ideas are purchased at a premium, leaving the originators with little control and a small fraction of the revenue earned.
Noticing the need for empowering creators with great stories to maintain control of the content, and the opportunity to actively invest in promising franchises over time, veteran television executive Sergio Alfaro teamed up with Demarest Films and Kilburn Media to found Eclipse TV. Acting as a full-service production company, Eclipse funds, develops and acquires reality programs that tell diverse stories, while allowing creators to steer the ship, keep ownership and receive proper compensation for their work. This approach positions the company as an incubator, similar to the way venture capital firms in Silicon Valley build promising startups. Eclipse provides the resources and support necessary to produce quality network shows, in addition to executing the pitch process to partnering networks.
With over a decade of experience extending across live events and reality television, Alfaro has played an instrumental role in bringing some of the most reputable shows to life. From prominent live events like the Emmy Awards and the Alma Awards, to esteemed cultural events like the Presidential Inauguration, Alfaro also combines over a decade of proven expertise in reality television to invent a sustainable model that serves the next generation. Prior to founding Eclipse, Alfaro served as President of Big Vida Entertainment, Open Water Studios and SVP of Pink Sneakers Productions. He also worked alongside acclaimed producer Ken Ehrlich, who has acted as a mentor to Alfaro throughout his accomplished career.
I spoke with Sergio about the vision behind Eclipse TV, designing the future of reality television, and the importance of delivering more diverse stories to a multicultural generation.
You’ve seen notable success in both live events and reality television at the highest level — How did you get to the idea of creating Eclipse TV?
As things have continued to evolve, Eclipse TV came as an opportunity for anybody to participate in this business. I don’t think reality television is dying. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about where it’s going and not going to go. But, what we’ve created here with Eclipse, besides an original content company, is a home and ability for anybody to come, have a vision and see it come to life. If you come with a reality show, wanted to sell it, and you’re not affiliated with a network or company, you can come to Eclipse and we can help you grow and support you. That’s contrary to what some companies do, which is take your concept, give you passive income and tell you to go away. I feel like the people coming up with the creative and artistry are unique individuals and I don’t want to take their project from them, I want to see them grow and we experience that growth together, so we can learn and constantly evolve together, bringing ideas from all walks of life.
Considering your business model, Eclipse TV feels like an incubator that gives creators the resources and support to own their content — why is this a model we’re just now seeing?
I think people have tried, and in time, depending on how the show is approached or whoever at the network is doing the job, the individual who brought in the original idea is no longer involved. This makes the networks and production companies feel a sense of ownership. That is because the show will ultimately evolve. If you watch the first season of any reality show ever, by the second, third or fourth season it’s a completely different show. The nucleus is still there, and there’s still a common thread or through line, but the show itself has evolved. So as season two and three go, the networks and production companies take on that sense of ownership. Why should I give you [the creator] any more control, when you brought the idea in, but we’ve changed it? I think that’s where things start to shift.
What are the trends or major shifts you’ve noticed since being in the business that have shaped your approach to building Eclipse TV?
One of the biggest trends I’ve noticed is that all of the great reality shows of today are all based on a profession and the characters within that profession. What’s happened is that now, there is this push and drive for more conflict, more drama, more backstory. If you take Pawn Stars for example, it’s an amazing show, but how did it start? A guy walks in, they talk about what the product is, what the value of it is, and whether they want to buy it or not buy it. What is the show today? Someone is screwing around with the guy in the back, and throwing the chicken at him. There’s always this push and drive for more — louder, crazier — rather than the root of it all. It’s always been about the profession and the characters, so as that’s declined, it gets away from that overall. I believe that when you stay true to what was initially bought in, you’re going to have a successful run with it. When anybody else starts getting in the mix and throwing their opinions, you start to strip the value of the original concept that was bought off on. Stay true to your creative vision from the beginning. Of course, you have to evolve, but always stay true to the show.
There’s been an ongoing debate about the need for reality television and its impact on the culture — what do you believe separates good vs. bad reality shows?
For me, good reality television is something that is going to help somebody. I’m a philanthropist at heart, so something that is going to make a difference in someone’s life, something that will give somebody hope stands out. That’s why I love shows like American Idol and Shark Tank. These are shows where someone walks in and has an opportunity, and as a viewer, you feel empowered because you see that you also have a voice and an idea. Those shows provide proof that it actually happens. I love seeing the follow up stories to some of these products that have been bought into on Shark Tank. Those kind of reality stories to me are the best. I love when an underdog comes out on top. Then, there’s the bad reality, which I wouldn’t consider bad in the sense that it doesn’t rate well, but bad in the sense that it makes you stop and ask what are we tuning in to watch? For example, watching housewives throw down, I like to watch it, it just draws you in. We enjoy the extremes of everything. From the swamp shows, to Rachel Zoe. But, for the most part, the bad reality shows are overproduced, very loud, very crazy and it’s all about the drama. Yet, like sickos, we all still tune in to watch it.
With that said, why is creating “bad reality” television something that is still so heavily supported or something people should find value in?
It’s convenient. I think it boils down to a basic need in life. What should we be doing with our lives and how we should be conducting ourselves. We should be eating healthy and exercising everyday, but do we? No. We stop by McDonald’s every now and then to grab a quick burger and eat some fries and drink a coke. With reality, I feel it is the same thing. There is the good programming that we like to watch, but sometimes our days get crazy and maybe I want to tune in to see that my life is not as bad as someone else’s life. It gives some people peace of mind, or the ability to relate and feel better about themselves. They can watch other people and realize they’re not the only ones going through those struggles, or see that other people fight and argue just like they do at home. Sometimes you just want to laugh.
For those familiar with the traditional reality television framework, it would seem the your business fits in the same category — What is the business model of Eclipse TV?
Our business is built on original content and supporting individuals that we can see grow. What a lot of the larger companies are doing today is buying vested content and companies. You’re seeing these huge mergers and acquisitions of $25 million, $200 million, a half a billion — these massive deals. But, what I would like to do, which is a part of our overall vision, is to identify individuals and support them before they become these gigantic, unattainable entities. I’d like to grow with them and either buy them or continue to sustain them while they’re in our house. You get to see what they’re doing as they’re doing it. We want to get in early, before they become these huge fully vested companies, swallowed up by another larger entity and then they kind of get lost in the weeds of it all.
Article by: Julian Mitchell