“I Love Your Idea!” (A Reality TV Scam)
By Glenn T. Litwak

Many people unfamiliar with the TV business are coming up with new ideas for reality TV shows. This article will discuss how some unscrupulous production companies are seeking to take advantage of the neophyte TV producer.

One of the scams circulating around goes something like this:  An individual I will call Carl lives in Omaha, Nebraska and has no experience or knowledge of the TV business. Carl has always been a dog lover and knows a lot about them.

 Carl comes up with a great idea for a new show.  Let’s say it’s a dog competition show Carl calls “Doggie Olympics.” The show will have various events such as water jumping and Frisbee. Carl hears that the best thing to do is to find a production company that is interested in partnering up with him and pitching the show to networks. He begins researching reality TV production companies on the internet.  He finds one that I will call Superior Hollywood TV Productions, Inc. (“Superior”) that sounds really good. Superior has a glossy web site indicating their vast experience in reality TV and describes shows they already have on the air. Their site also mentions that they have “worked with” some well known actors and producers.

  Carl contacts Superior and they say they are looking for new ideas.  He pitches them his idea over the phone and low and behold, they love it. They say there are millions of pet owners and dog lovers in this country and, therefore, a huge potential market for  “Doggie Olympics.”  It all sounds logical to Carl.

Carl has already prepared a “treatment” of his show which is a written summary of the idea.  He sends it to Superior and they contact him a few days later.  They are even more excited about partnering up with him and pitching the show. Superior says that with their connections and experience they are almost certain they can sell Carl’s show!!  They say there are no shows like it on the air and it is a fantastic idea.  Carl is beyond excited.  Maybe breaking into the reality TV biz is not as hard as people say.  Superior was the first production company Carl contacted.

Superior informs Carl that the first step is to prepare what is known as a “sizzle reel” which is an approximate five minute video depicting what the show will look like. Superior says they are going to give Carl a great deal.  All he has to do is sign their contract which provides, in part, that Carl will pay Superior $30,000 to prepare the sizzle reel. Once it is done, Superior indicates they can start pitching the show!  And Superior claims this is a bargain as they usually charge $60,000 to produce a sizzle reel.

Carl takes a second mortgage out on his home, to his wife’s chagrin, signs the contract and pays the $30,000.   About three weeks later Superior shoots the sizzle reel.  A few months go by and Carl contacts Superior to get a status report on his project.  The President of Superior rushes him off the phone saying he tried but there was no one interested in his show.  

In actuality, Carl has been scammed. The truth of the matter is Superior makes almost all of its income from producing sizzle reels!  The shows they have on the air are on obscure cable networks most people have never heard of.

 And what about all the famous people that they say they have “worked with”?  Well, what does ”worked with”  actually mean? It could simply mean the president of Superior worked for the same company as a famous producer or was a production assistant on a TV show starring someone famous. One of the reasons Carl was susceptible to this scam was that Superior was telling him what he wanted to hear (“You have a great idea that we think we can sell!”).

What Superior did was simply mail out ten unsolicited treatments and sizzle reels to networks so it could claim that it complied with the contract by pitching the show. Most or all of these submissions were not even looked at by development executives at the networks.

First of all, a sizzle reel should not cost $30,000.  A typical sizzle reel should cost perhaps $2,500-$5,000. Secondly, if a legitimate production company wanted to partner up with Carl and shop his show, they would likely pay for the sizzle reel themselves.


One must be diligent not to be taken advantage of by one of these shady production companies.  Do your due diligence very carefully.  Ask questions and talk to people in the TV business about any potential production company you are considering working with.