Q&A: NBC's reality head Paul Telegdy
In a TV season when only established unscripted shows seem to be
performing well for broadcast networks, NBC's recently hired
reality head Paul Telegdy to try and launch a
new crop of hits. Coming from BBC Worldwide, where he developed
ABC's breakthrough "Dancing With the Stars," the affable Brit already has greenlit several shows, including summer’s “I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here” and vocal competition “The Sing Off.”
James Hibberd/THR: What should producers pitch you, and what should they avoid?
Telegdy: I try not to make pronouncements about what we should and shouldn't do, because invariably I just trip myself up. I think it's fair to say we want people to come in with concepts about real people -- large amounts of human interest that are fundamentally positive and have a wink to the audience. And ingenuity -- something you haven't seen or heard before.
THR: What reality shows now on the air do you like?
Telegdy: I am utterly hooked on "Biggest Loser." Of course,
we all watch "American Idol" ... Ryan Seacrest is a really great
all-around talent. "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."
THR: Did you say "Keeping Up With the Kardashians"?
Telegdy: Yeah! If I'd thought about it, I would have named all my children's first names with one letter. That's just brilliant. I watch a lot of cooking programs because I'm just greedy and love food.
THR: Fox has made some headlines lately doing controversial shows. What do you think of that approach?
Telegdy: That's (Fox alternative president) Mike Darnell's stock and trade. From crashing jumbo jets to "When Animals Attack," that's always been their reality brand -- or what they think their reality brand is. Of course, their only (current) successful reality shows, "Hell's Kitchen" and "American Idol," don't fall into that category.
THR: Would those type of shows work for NBC?
Telegdy: I don't think our brand is snarky in that way. Is 'snarky' a word?
THR: I get called it nearly every day so I assume it's a word. You've ordered a couple shows from the U.K. How accurate do you think the U.K. is as a barometer of success for U.S. versions?
Telegdy: "Who Do You Think You Are?" has been running for three years in the U.K., "Have I Got News for You" is a 20-year-old format. "I'm a Celebrity" is a 7-year-old format. There have been very few new hits in the U.K., as well as here.
THR: The question was more toward how accurate is the U.K. as a barometer of success in the U.S.
Telegdy: I don't know what the direct correlation is. You have to understand that once a successful franchise has established itself, the amount of real estate available to experiment is much reduced.
THR: Is there anything about the way "I'm a Celebrity" was done last time that makes you feel as if you're going to do it better?
Telegdy: I think the environment for celebrities on television, and also the definition of celebrity and also the consumption of celebrity news and gossip in mixed media, has changed. At the time they made it at ABC, America wasn't ready for it. The whole VH1 celeb-reality and "Dancing With the Stars" hadn't happened. I think it was a very different environment.
THR: Are you apprehensive about stripping the show four nights a week in the summer?
Telegdy: The stakes for any programming decision are extremely high, and therefore the stakes for a programming decision in which you go wide are a bit higher. But it is the way the show works best. Do I sound calm? Relatively. You do what you do and stand back.
THR: There hasn't been a successful variety show lately -- or at least what's generally called a variety show -- though networks seem convinced that U.S. viewers want one.
Telegdy: I don't think Fox's "Osbournes: Reloaded" was a variety show. "America's Got Talent" is a variety show, and it is a successful one. It's a platform for come one, come all, it's your dream, our stage, so come up here and see how you get along, and surprise and delight us. So we have a very serviceable variety, in the tradition of "Live at the Apollo," that's the stepping-off point for that show.
THR: Donald Trump has said he wants to go back to a civilian version of "The Apprentice" next fall. What do you think of that idea?
Telegdy: When the show first came out, it was the commoditizing of something that's extremely relevant today: a job. Right now, the best thing you could have in America is a job.