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Camacho’s New Reality

Jan 25, 2009  •  Post A Comment

One conversation is all it took to change reality agent Michael Camacho’s life forever.
Michael Camacho
During 15 years at Creative Artists Agency, Mr. Camacho helped the company become an alternative TV powerhouse. He guided the careers of the producers behind some of the biggest shows in the genre, including “The Bachelor,” “Big Brother” and “The Amazing Race.” And he helped Oprah Winfrey put together her Discovery-based cable network.
Then last February, in a plot twist worthy of one of the shows he helped package, Mr. Camacho suddenly found himself out of a job after it was discovered that he had talked to Ms. Winfrey about the possibility of running her company.
Mr. Camacho wasted no time moving on. He signed on as a partner at United Talent Agency, taking charge of its alternative department. Virtually all of his major CAA clients made the leap with him.
In the inaugural installment of an occasional series profiling the power players in the reality representation business, Mr. Camacho talks for the first time to TelevisionWeek deputy editor and columnist Josef Adalian about the events surrounding his departure. He also details his “seamless transition” to UTA, what the reality business needs to do to develop more hits and what he thinks will be the Next Big Thing in unscripted television.
TelevisionWeek: It’s been a year since you came to UTA. What’s been your biggest accomplishment at the agency?
Mr. Camacho: I think by far it’s been the seamless transition of my clients to UTA. We have been able to transition the business that we had for 15 years at CAA to UTA in less than a year. We’ve brought all of my clients here, established them with new teams, and the clients haven’t missed a beat. … Despite the fact that for a moment I was the one in transition, the clients didn’t miss a beat, careerwise or dealwise.
TVWeek: It wasn’t an easy process initially because of the circumstances of how you left CAA.
Mr. Camacho: The way that I represent clients is (by) having teams in place so that the clients’ ambitions can be achieved in other areas. The transition was challenging because my clients were deeply involved with my partners at CAA. So the question for them became, who were going to be their new partners and where were they going to be best represented across the board? It was difficult because of the longstanding relationship some of my clients had with other agents at CAA. In the end, all of my core clients came.
TVWeek: One client didn’t, though (“The Amazing Race” executive producer Bertram van Munster).
Mr. Camacho: For 99% of the clients to come and 1% not to? I declare (that) a vast victory. To focus on that 1% is not worth it.
TVWeek: What did you learn from your departure from CAA? I mean, it wasn’t very amicable at first.
Mr. Camacho: My departure was an unmitigated disaster. And what I learned most was how precious the relationships are with your clients and colleagues. It was evident in what happened, in the repercussions that my actions had and the life of its own that it took on, that those relationships with your clients and colleagues are the most important.
TVWeek: Did you make mistakes?
Mr. Camacho: There’s no question that I made mistakes. … And you have two ways to address it: You either learn from what you have done and continue to grow and evolve, or you say, “I didn’t make a mistake.” And the latter is not the type of person I want to be, professionally or personally.
TVWeek: What exactly was the mistake? Talking to Oprah Winfrey about running her company?
Mr. Camacho: Yes. I had a conversation that put me, the client and the agency in an awkward position. (The question) I’m asked more than anything is, “Would you have that conversation again?” And the answer is absolutely not. (As for) where I am now, I could not be more grateful (for) the support and the acceptance and encouragement that I have here with my new partners and colleagues at UTA, especially Brett Hansen. It’s been an amazing experience, and one that I was not ready for.
TVWeek: What do you mean, “weren’t ready for”?
Mr. Camacho: I didn’t know what to expect, and when I walked into the office, it was not only an open door but a ton of support from people I didn’t really know well, outside of a “hello” or a handshake at events.
TVWeek: You’ve been working closely with UTA’s lit and talent departments. Are we going to see more cross-over between divisions, more hybrid projects?
Mr. Camacho: Absolutely. It’s going to be the evolution of the medium. More than that, you are going to see the influence of nonfiction creator/executive producers in other mediums: scripted television, motion pictures, documentaries—everything. The people who are creating and executive producing the zeitgeist, pop-culture programming will continue to evolve the same way other artists do, where the most talented in each genre cross over and express different talents.
TVWeek: Is one of the things the networks are looking for to bring down the cost of alternative shows? They used to be much cheaper than scripted, but lately they’ve gotten more expensive.
Mr. Camacho: The networks are trying to respond to the economic realities, and there is a distinct advantage for people who come out of the nonfiction genre who can produce a high-quality product for a price. And in the last three or four months (prices) have diminished. But the value of nonfiction has also increased because advertisers are becoming more accepting of it.
TVWeek: It has been a long time since the major networks have scored a big reality hit. I know everyone says it’s a cyclical business. But step back: Is there something that the reality business can do differently that can increase the chances of success?
Mr. Camacho: I think it is cyclical—it always is. But there have also been executive shifts at the networks, and that change can be really positive, because it brings in different perspectives and points of view. That’s going to be the advantage for the sellers, i.e., the executive producer community. Different executives bringing different experiences can open up the creative floodgates.
TVWeek: So if creators are making the same kinds of shows, is it because they’re just giving the networks what they want?
Mr. Camacho: They pitch what they think will be bought by the networks. I’m sure they’d love to pitch something different. But that’s what accepted, and that’s what they go toward.
TVWeek: Is there anything specifically you can point to in broad terms that creators can do better?
Mr. Camacho: Because of the growing quantity of nonfiction shows on television, there has been a matriculation from producer to executive producer that has been too quick. The reason why the matriculation happens is because of the need. That’s the biggest challenge: talent. It’s not just finding gifted people with potential, but finding those who have the experience and the scope and the gravitas to actually pull it off. And that’s why you see, in my opinion, the best people are doing more business. That’s why you see Mike Fleiss, Allison Grodner, Tom Forman, Mark Burnett, the Magical Elves, etc., succeed. They will continue to thrive because of their experience and knowledge.
TVWeek: So there are too many unscripted shows on TV right now?
Mr. Camacho: There are never enough unscripted shows on television! (laughs) I think there are too many scripted shows on TV.
TVWeek: There are new reality chiefs at three networks now (CBS, NBC, The CW). Are they having an impact yet?
Mr. Camacho: Yes, their presence is being felt, but it’s not on the screen yet. It will take six to nine months to see the results. The changes definitely open the doors to new opportunities for clients, because everyone does it differently and the networks take on the personality of their leader.
TVWeek: What one bit of advice would you give the newbies?
Mr. Camacho: Oh, man … you never know where your next hit is going to come from. So be open to new ideas and to new people.
TVWeek: Are there any particular formats that you’d like to see more of in ’09? Variety shows?
Mr. Camacho: Maybe variety. But I think the docu-soap. That’s where the U.S. has not had a success in primetime. I’ve been saying it for quite some time—that’s the one area that we haven’t seen (work) in primetime where there’s still an enormous opportunity. The other big opportunity is the primetime half-hour. That’s really the Holy Grail for whoever gets it right.
TVWeek: Because of syndication value?
Mr. Camacho: Exactly, because of cost, syndication value, international value.
TVWeek: There are people who love you and some people who don’t love you. And even when they love you, they don’t always love you. Are there any misperceptions about you? Are you the same agent you were at CAA?
Mr. Camacho: Hopefully, I have evolved and grown and matured, because I had to. Is my approach modified by the things that I have learned in the past year? Absolutely. Those things are now a part of my experience (and) that makes me better as an agent and personally. I’m still as aggressive for my clients as I have ever been, and I’m still ambitious, direct, strategic—I don’t think there’s a successful person in any business who is not those things.

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