Great Reality TV Worlds Have These 4 Qualities



Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 12:13 — 11.4MB)

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | RSS

Reality TV worlds and documentary locations need to be populated with amazing characters. However, sometimes, those characters are not enough to sell a show. That’s when the show’s world or setting becomes hugely important. Why?

Sometimes, Reality TV Worlds or Documentary Settings are Bigger Than Their Characters

In episode 6, we told you how to spot great characters for your reality tv shows.

But sometimes, great reality TV worlds make all the difference. The world you discover can be a project’s real star.

Again, you can’t have a great show without loud, fun, interesting documentary or reality tv characters.

But sometimes those characters, no matter how colorful, are just not enough to justify a whole television show.

When Are Reality TV Worlds or Documentary Settings Enough to Make a Great Show?

This week’s episode goes into great detail on why hits like “Hillbilly Handfishin'” “Deadliest Catch” and even the slew of current dress shopping shows ala “Say Yes to the Dress” rely on the world they are set in to carry the show.

How do you if you’ve found such a world?

4 Qualities of Great Reality TV Worlds

If you haven’t already hit the giant “Play” button at the top of this post, consider doing so now, before reading the spoiler below.

We’re able to go into much greater detail in the podcast on many points related to reality TV worlds and documentary settings.

Later, what’s inside the spoiler can serve as a handy reminder of this episode’s big points, and add a few handy clarifications:


The 4 qualities are:

  1. Reality TV World or Documentary Setting is Visual

  2. Reality TV World or Doc Setting Feels Like a Discovery

  3. Reality TV World or Location Itself Can Cause Drama

  4. Reality TV World or Documentary Setting Fits Somewhere on the TV Landscape


Film and television are visual mediums.

Yet, often times we’re pitched shows that take place in run of the mill office settings or plain-jane suburban homes.

Those worlds won’t sell.

You want reality TV worlds and documentary settings that leap off the screen no matter which way you point the camera. Tight, cramped quarters, run of the mill office buildings, or anything that feels too “normal” should be red flags.

Feels Like a Discovery

Before “Swamp People” hit, most people had no idea what gator hunting season was, or that such a thing even occurred in the United States.

Until “Pregnant in Heels” started airing on Bravo, I had no idea some people pay to have their kid’s name test marketed.

These are worlds which feel like discoveries. They have a great “who knew” factor to them.

Keep you eyes open for reality TV worlds and documentary settings right in your back yard that may feel like a discovery to most people. Those worlds could be the star of your next hit show.

Can Cause Drama

Can the world itself create drama?

Most obvious example: Nature.

The Bering Sea on “Deadliest Catch” or the weather on “Storm Chasers.”

At any moment mother nature can rear her ferocious head and cause instant drama.

On the other hand, dress shopping shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” cause a different kind of drama.

The dress shop becomes a “pressure cooker” that brings wedding drama and relationship differences to a boiling point.

As you can see, there are multiple ways documentary settings and reality TV worlds can create drama.

If a world sits at the center of your potential show, you better know every single one of them.

Fit Somewhere on the TV Landscape

This is a hard one to know at any given moment (just another reason you should subscribe to our newsletter) but the fact of the matter is network mandates change constantly, and reality TV worlds and doc locations that are right today could be wrong tomorrow.

Still, think about what kinds of shows networks are programming these days, and be honest with yourself.

Would the world you’re considering fit anywhere on the TV landscape?

BTW, if you go through these five steps, you’ll have the answer to that.

Be sure to check out the above spoiler at some point by clicking on “SHOW.” It’ll be a good reference and adds some extra perspective to the podcast.

Helpful and Related Links

Despite having great characters, we would never have sold our show Caged to MTV without the world of amateur mixed-martial arts.

The “world” of reincarnated children drives our show Ghost Inside My Child.

A reminder that even if your world is visual, you need more than a good camera to capture it: Great Cameras Don’t Tell Stories, People Do

Interesting New York Times article on Deadliest Catch.

Transcript coming soon!
UPDATE: Transcript Now Available.

Okay, you know what to look for in potential unscripted film and reality TV worlds. So what’s next?

Read our in-depth page about how to pitch us a show. It also talks about what it’s really like to work in our business, the unscripted TV and film industry.



  • Facebook Classic
  • Twitter Classic
  • c-youtube

© 2020 by Gerald Chong