Mastering reality for the long haul

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

If you asked Endeavor agent Sean Perry about television’s reality craze, he would say that the genre’s mega-boom season isn’t fading out, it’s about to climb to a new high. And he said his goal is to ensure that it does.
Mr. Perry serves as head of the alternative programming department at the Los Angeles-based Endeavor talent agency. Throughout his career, he has been linked to breakout successes in the reality TV genre. He was involved in the first packaging of “Judge Judy,” and more recently he brokered the creation of “Blind Date” and last year’s breakout hit “Tough Enough” on MTV. He is currently working on additional reality projects for network, cable and syndication, several of which are set to debut this year.
With the insider-dubbed “season of reality” behind us, in which “Survivor,” “Weakest Link,” “Fear Factor,” “The Mole” and “Temptation Island” covered broadcast lineups with varying degrees of success, naysayers have been quick to label any declines in reality programming as the beginning of the end of the genre. But Mr. Perry does not believe that is the case.
“Reality was glutted for a while. There were too many players trying to get in the game,” he said. “After `Survivor,’ networks became reactive instead of proactive. [Reality TV] wasn’t being driven by the passion for a project or the people behind it.”
Nevertheless, innovation does help the genre continue as a programming staple, said Mr. Perry.
“Reality had this incredible run in 2000-01, but it wasn’t positive to the extent that a lot of people were playing the game [who] shouldn’t have been, because they thought it was going to be easy,” he said. “However, every network now has reality working for it, and that’s tremendous.”
One of Mr. Perry’s projects that already debuted this year is NBC’s “Last Call” hosted by Carson Daly of MTV’s “Total Request Live.” The three-year pact with NBC Studios allows Mr. Daly to continue hosting “TRL.” As part of his agreement, Mr. Daly will also be available to host or appear on other programs under the NBC umbrella.
In addition, on MTV, “Tough Enough” will return with a new season-and in cahoots with the World Wrestling Federation, allowing a new generation of athletes with stars in their eyes to compete to become a WWF entertainer.
On the syndication front, Mr. Perry’s projects include a talk show, hosted by “America’s Most Wanted’s” John Walsh, through NBC Enterprises. Meanwhile, Mr. Perry also packaged “The Rob Nelson Show” for Twentieth Television, in which Rob Nelson, the former host of “The Full Nelson” on Fox News takes a stab at daytime. The strip is produced by Monet Lane Productions in association with Twentieth.
“Sean Perry is a wonderful agent, a tough negotiator and a savvy businessman with a keen grasp of our industry,” said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “He is very simply a pleasure to do business with.”
Mr. Perry entered the reality world as a production assistant for Reg Grundy Productions before starting as an assistant at ICM and entering the agency’s training program. He then took on full-fledged agent duties at Abrams-Rubaloff & Lawrence in 1990 and soon partnered with Richard Lawrence at the agency. There he packaged programs ranging from “Judge Judy” to “Real Stories of the Highway Patrol.”
In 1996, he took on the role of senior VP of development at King World Productions and served as executive in charge of production for the then-fledgling “Hollywood Squares.” Finally, Mr. Perry returned to his roots in 1999 with the move to Endeavor.
“The job is a happy medium between being creative, being a businessman and dealing with people,” said Mr. Perry. “I work at a company that is by far the best company I’ve ever worked at. We have fun, and it propels you to do better at your job.”
His experiences across the programming spectrum benefit his clients as well.
“Sean is an incredibly versatile agent who also can claim extensive experience from both the production and distribution perspectives,” said Ned Nalle, president of Universal Worldwide Television. “With his passion for new technology, we consider him on the cutting edge of the business. Best of all, he is very well liked and respected by clients and buyers alike.”
Mr. Perry’s understanding of different areas of the television business should also help him navigate the challenges presented by the changing economics of the industry. He said it is those types of challenges and finding solutions for them that have kept him passionate for the game.
“What keeps me motivated is change,” he said. “Those people who embrace it, drive it and look forward to it will thrive and survive. Those who don’t are gone. End of story. It’s a challenge now for studios to keep their economics in check. Now in order to come out profitable, you have to put a focus on everything from licensing and merchandising to Web sites to international formatting. The economic model simply demands it.”
As for his future, look for Mr. Perry to continue pushing the boundaries of the business.
“All the rules are off right now,” he said. “The great thing about this climate is that necessity is the mother of invention. We are living that right now in the entertainment business, and that’s the reality of it.”