Burbank, Calif-based Original Productions has developed several of the most successful unscripted docuseries — History’s Ice Road Truckers and Ax Men, Discovery Channel’s Monster Garage and A&E’s Storage Wars among them — over nearly a 20-year span. Founded by Thom Beers, the FremantleMedia-owned production company also has cast the net with several shows in the fishing genre, the biggest being Discovery’s Deadliest Catch. This fall the studio and Discovery will spawn a spinoff, Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove, set among fishing families on the Oregon coast. Original Productions CEO Phil Segal spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about adding again to the Discovery Channel series, now in its 12th season, and about the future of reality TV.
MCN: After 12 successful seasons of Deadliest Catch, why did you feel this was the right time to create this spinoff series?
Phil Segal: We’ve done spinoff s before — Storage Wars was one of our shows that successfully spun itself off into Storage Wars New York, Texas and Miami, and of course L.A., as well as internationally in Canada, France and South America, so I think that’s an example of a really powerful format that equally had some good characters.
Deadliest Catch is uniquely different. While over the years we’ve done many shows that feature different forms of fishing, Catch is one of those shows that we were looking to expand the universe in terms of giving the audience a much richer, immersive experience, but we never thought about spinoff s because we were always concerned about damaging the brand. What we found with Dungeon Cove is an incredibly organic opportunity to celebrate crab fishing, but from a uniquely different perspective. This is the Oregon coast, featuring small towns and very prideful people, and their fishing grounds are rich and complicated. It’s an incredibly unique opportunity for us to celebrate our world through a very different lens. I don’t like to think of it as a spinoff but rather an organic extension of a world that hopefully the audience will embrace.
MCN: From a production perspective, what criteria do you need to meet before extending a popular reality franchise?
PS: It’s a very delicate process and one that’s not taken lightly, not only on our side but on the network side as well. The negative side of an unsuccessful splinter obviously could be damaging to a brand. The object of the exercise is never through the lens of “more is better.” It’s always through the lens of whether the audience’s experience is literally going to be expanded. The question always is, “Is this a legitimate story and is this going to have a benefit to the audience?” We always take that very seriously. For us, it’s when you have a unique opportunity to tell the story of a character, but because of the prism you choose to tell that story in, you have to make a decision whether or not going off and seeing what these other characters do or what’s happening in the world evolving around them is added value and not just a special or a B-story, but a world that can add value to the brand.
MCN: How do you see the reality genre evolving given the changing content distribution marketplace?
PS: It’s a complicated question: On the one hand, never in the history of television has there been so much content available for consumers on so many different platforms. When Original Productions launched, there were 20-plus competitors; today there are over 750. So for us we continue to look at what the storytelling worlds are for us going forward. I also think on the other hand it’s a challenge because as these distribution changes evolve there will be shifts in how we do business.
I think over the next 18 months, we’re going to see a continual evolution of the distribution system and we’re going to have to get a better handle on the economics of our business. What is the price of entry? What is it going to cost to produce? What can these networks afford to pay for their content and can we remain competitive? That story has yet to be written as we continue to look at the competitive landscape and learn on a daily basis how to compete in it.