How should a proposal for a reality show be structured? My research to date suggests that reality shows have been evolving towards a more “scripted” format, although I understand that writers don’t get credited (yet). I have an idea for a reality show (doesn’t everyone, eh?) – so how should it be presented to a producer? An overall description of the premise, and ideas for several episodes? What level of detail is needed (or not needed)?

— Jedd
New Orleans, LA

There are already too many reality TV shows, which are taking jobs away from writers. So I won’t answer your question. . . . Okay, I will. But you have to promise your show will be something inspiring like the Amazing Race and not soul-destroying like, well, anything that starts with My Big Fat Obnoxious Dot-Dot-Dot.

There’s nothing approaching a standard format for something like a reality TV show, or, surprisingly, a scripted show. In the Downloads section, you’ll see my initial write-ups for The Circle. The format seems pretty standard and straightforward, but I wasn’t trying to match any template. I just wrote what I thought needed to be explained.

For your reality show, I think the proposal would need to include:

  1. The premise
  2. The people (host, contestants, whatever)
  3. The tone, including some sample dialogue/narration if appropriate
  4. The reward or outcome
  5. Structure of a typical episode
  6. Future episode descriptions

I think you need to present enough detail so that the producer really understands what the show is, and how it differs from anything else on television. If you have a background in physical production, you might include more detail about shooting days, crew or locations, but if you don’t know, don’t try to fake it.