Troy DeVolld Tells Us the Truth about “Owning” your Reality TV Work

by Troy DeVolld

I spoke a little bit about this to some attendees at Story Expo this past weekend, and it bears posting here.

You’ll often hear reality producers talk about taking “ownership” of their shows.  It’s that satisfying feeling wherein the time and emotional investment you’ve made at the episode or series level feels like it has paid off, and that your voice has come through in the show.wpid-20150911_2209141

What has to be remembered when seeking “ownership” of your work is that ultimately, you have a showrunner, execs, and a network to please.  Your idea of what the show is can be compromised by everything from its bottom line to any one of a host of issues beyond your control.

Always, always, always care about what you do, but remember that some arguments aren’t worth having and that your first job is to have one.  Ownership isn’t always possible.

This is why it’s critical to understand your showrunner.  Do they like to discuss story or dictate it?  What’s their vision of the workflow on their show?  Do they thrive in times of calmness, chaos, or both?  Figure it out.

Some years ago, I had an exec at network who created problems just so they could heroically resolve them later.  I’ve also had a company owner who would show up and ALWAYS trash the first act of a rough cut and storm out, seemingly operating on his unspoken philosophy that good work only comes from stressed out employees.  While he apparently never saw a California Cheese commercial in which “Great cheese comes from happy cows,” he was clear about the level of ownership he took in the programs he made.

The real world is about working.  Creating and feeling fulfilled is a luxury afforded to few, even in a “creative” business.  Understand that your EP/showrunner has worked a long time to get where they’re at, and that one of the most important aspects of their job is expressing a vision, theirs, consistently.


Troy DeVolld is a longtime LB buddy and one of the masters of the reality TV genre. The above is a sample from his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market. Buy it. Even if you’re absolutely certain you’ll never write anything but fiction. Cuz, hey, you never know, yeah?