THR's editors zeroed in on those who know this climate best: the sellers.
Here they sound off on their craziest pitches, what shows they wish were their own and how they know when they've pushed a castmember too far. More here.
A reality rainmaker, Burnett is behind dominant franchises on three of the Big Four networks: ABC's Shark Tank, CBS' standby Survivor and NBC savior The Voice. (The latter now outrates American Idol by an ever-growing 20 percent.) His alternative roster keeps swelling, even as he makes a big post-Bible push into scripted TV, and the coming year likely will see one of his biggest gambles to date. The long-gestating space competition Space Race, with Richard Branson, landed at NBC in October after a pricey bidding war. "If you're given the privilege of time on American primetime network television, you have to treat that as if you're producing a $100 million movie," says Burnett, who adds that his commitment to reality hasn't wavered as his scripted roster grows. "There's no free pass."
First reality gig: I created Eco Challenge in 1995. It ran for nine seasons among three different channels -- MTV, Discovery and USA.
Biggest show regret: Two shows I loved that didn't go on as long as I wanted were The Contender and, one of my favorites, Rock Star -- which got canceled on CBS. I'd do that show again in a second.
Unscripted show I wish I'd created: The Biggest Loser
Burnett's Broadcast Holy Trinity
• A 3.1 rating in 18-to-49 and 11.4 million viewers makes it CBS' top reality player in its 28th cycle.
• It outperforms Idol on Wednesdays.
The Voice, NBC
• TV's top reality show commands an average 4.7 demo rating.
• 15.9 million tuned in to February's return.
Shark Tank, ABC
• Reinvigorating Friday for ABC, Shark Tank is up 10 percent this season in the demo.
• March 21 brought a record 8.3 million viewers.
Ten years into his Fox relationship, Chef Ramsay remains ubiquitous. He boasts five culinary series on the network, accounting for more than 75 hours of programming and $150 million in yearly ad sales -- all while his massive U.K. catalog continues to get stateside play on BBC America and he continues to oversee 24 restaurants globally.
Biggest show regret: Cookalong Live in the U.K. when we lost contact with NASA due to bad weather.
Craziest pitch: Celebrity synchronized swimming
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses
The face of one of the genre's most storied franchises, the American Idol host has extended his unscripted producing efforts beyond E!'s Kardashian catalog. Seacrest will have projects on nine different U.S. networks, including Fox's recent purchase, I Wanna Marry Harry.
First reality gig: In 1993, I hosted ESPN's Radical Outdoor Challenge.
Unscripted show I wish I'd created: Top Chef
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Lady Gaga. She's brilliant, talented and fearless -- she always does things her way. That independent spirit usually makes for great television.
After exiting as Fox's reality chief in 2013, Darnell quickly segued to the studio side at Warner Bros. -- where he oversees more than 30 current series between Telepictures, Warner Horizon Television and Shed Media US. He's set up nearly 20 pilot projects during his short tenure, recently sold a haunted house project to ABC, is a leading executive on The Voice (produced by Warner Horizon) and has one of the most successful (and colorful) reputations in the industry.
First reality gig: Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction …?
Biggest show regret: I never got Female Prisoner Beauty Pageant on the air.
Guilty reality pleasure: I'm never guilty about anything. I like watching everything. The only guilt I get is from my Jewish mother.
Moment I knew we'd pushed a contestant too far: Every contestant on The Glutton Bowl.
Moving from Celebrity Apprentice showrunner to Shine America (then Reveille) president in 2011, Gaha has found himself with one of the larger unscripted plates in the industry. Overseeing The Biggest Loser and MasterChef for the studio, he also launched in 2013 the breakout hit MasterChef Junior, which already has scored renewals for second and third seasons.
First reality gig: I was a production assistant at VH1, and the first show I worked on was the Diva's Concert: Las Vegas. You learn a lot about celebrities in the way they treat PAs.
Biggest show regret: Adding the words "Season 1" to the Pirate Master crew shirt.
Guilty reality pleasure: Storage Wars. It's the perfect combination of docuseries and format. Tough to flip past a marathon of that show.
Tapped to run All3Media’s U.S. operations in 2013, after Studio Lambert’s acquisition, the duo now commands a portfolio of more than 10 production companies. NBC’s Million Second Quiz was a miss, but Undercover Boss — Lambert’s baby, on the air or in development in 16 international markets — scored a sixth season on CBS.
Biggest show regret: Holzman: Passing on Ali G.
Craziest pitch: Lambert: We suggested in one line of an email to a U.K. network that we make My Fair Lady for real — they bought it immediately, and it became Faking It, which won an Emmy and two BAFTAs.
Moment I knew we’d pushed a contestant too far: Holzman: Stephen pushes me so we don’t have to push the contestants. Lambert: I’m too busy pushing Eli to have time to push contestants.
A veteran with Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares on his lineup, Smith sees the return of NBC’s ratings-dependable American Ninja Warrior in May and seven other cable series back on the air throughout the year.
Craziest pitch: It was for our ABC series I Survived a Japanese Game Show. We had a variety of videos, sketches and demonstrations featuring staff submerging their heads in icy cold water and putting nylon stockings on their head while trying to stuff their face full of marshmallows.
Moment I knew we’d pushed a contestant too far: We brought back eliminated contestants for a reunion on Paradise Hotel. The show was happening in real time, so the eliminated contestants had seen the show and absorbed all the negative comments the remaining contestants had said about them. A war broke out, and we stopped production for 24 hours so everybody could calm down.
Expanding his role at international behemoth ITV in 2013, Buccieri now is charged with growing international productions through the company's many brands. Production grew 40 percent between 2012 and 2013, as Buccieri oversaw the purchase of Gurney Productions (Duck Dynasty), High Noon Entertainment (Cake Boss) and Thinkfactory Media (Preachers' Daughters).
Biggest show regret: I love putting on big-top variety shows. I especially like the instant feedback that you get from an audience. I wish I could have done more of these type of shows in my past.
Craziest pitch: Taking a pitch from a dog psychic who literally barked at me for 25 minutes because she only spoke "dog."
Guilty reality pleasure: It is an older show, but it has got to be Jackass. In my view, it is one of the best reality shows ever made.
Since taking the reins at Fremantle's stateside outpost in 2012, the Original Productions founder inherited (and helped remodel) American Idol and the company's roster of top-rated game shows (Family Feud, The Price Is Right, Let's Make a Deal). He launches syndicated competition Celebrity Name Game in the fall, continues to serve as chair of Original (200-plus hours of unscripted in 2013) and inked development deals with StyleHaul and Vice.
Craziest pitch: I said to Kevin Kay [at Spike], "I really just want to blow shit up." We spent the next hour going through all the nuts and bolts of the three pitches I brought in. In the end, I asked Kevin what he wanted to do. He said, "I want to blow shit up." And that's what we did.
Moment I knew we'd pushed a contestant too far: When he was writhing in pain from getting tear-gassed.
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Ryan Seacrest
The envy of many of his peers, Montgomery's Pawn Stars still averages more than 5.7 million viewers after five years and 288 episodes on History. More impressive, the look at a Las Vegas barter business inspired its own subgenre, and its lingering success earned it an unprecedented 104-episode renewal. Leftfield continues to expand, acquiring Loud Television, Outpost Entertainment and Real Housewives of New Jersey producers Sirens Media in 2013.
Biggest show regret: Not anticipating that a female talent I hired to host a show would get plastic surgery and start taking steroids in the window between the show being ordered and the start of principal photography. It was not a good outcome.
Craziest pitch: Evidently, a sizzle reel I showed was a bit too bloody because the buyer fainted in my agent's lap during the pitch. She followed passing out with passing on the project.
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Joe Biden because he talks first and thinks second. Reality gold.
Forman's joint venture with Relativity Media's Ryan Kavanaugh has 21 series in production or on the air and runs the gamut from Showtime's salacious Gigolos to GSN's wholesome The American Bible Challenge. Relativity Television also will be there for A+E Networks' Bio rebrand when it has two series ready for the FYI Network launch in early July.
First reality gig: 48 Hours at CBS News. Don't kid yourself, news is a reality show.
Biggest show regret: I still die a little inside when I think that Kid Nation only lasted one season. It was controversial, I know. And the ratings may not have justified the drubbing we took from the critics. But those kids were incredible; and the doc-reality footage we captured out in the desert was genuinely unscripted, totally unpredictable and endlessly entertaining.
Unscripted show I wish I'd created: My ego says Deadliest Catch. My checking account says America's Funniest Home Videos.
Further expanding the Top Chef franchise with a fourth spinoff on Bravo in 2014, Magical Elves also gave TNT its first unscripted hit with Cold Justice. U.K.'s Tinopolis Group recently solidified Cutforth's and Lipsitz's clout, acquiring their operation in a deal believed to be worth north of $100 million.
Craziest pitch: Cutforth: Trying to persuade NBC that they should buy an air guitar competition show.
Biggest show regret: Lipsitz: We've never been able to bring back Birds on the Run.
Shattering records in 2013 with an 11.8 million-strong episode of Duck Dynasty, the Gurneys are behind the biggest nonfiction series in cable history -- even if it is on the inevitable wane. Acquired by ITV in 2012 for $40 million, the married couple's shingle also includes Spike's Auction Hunters, Syfy's Naked Vegas and TLC's upcoming reality vehicle for Scientology defector Leah Remini.
Craziest pitch: Deirdre: A host trying to be eaten by lions, tigers, bears, etc. -- it was affectionately called Mauled.
Moment I knew we'd pushed a contestant too far: Deirdre: A host came with his arm swollen five times the normal size. He said a snake bit him. We were 200 miles from a hospital in Swaziland.
Guilty reality pleasure: Scott: Ted Nugent -- Spirit of the Wild. I love hunting and fishing.
On top of a healthy stable of talk shows, Jacobs has found a hit in the reality arena with Shark Tank. The entrepreneur competition is making waves in its fifth season, hitting a series high March 21 with 8.3 million viewers, and NBC revived The Sing-Off in 2013 to strong ratings results.
First reality gig: Fox Television Studios, where I was responsible for all unscripted programming. My first sale was The Girls Next Door for E!
Craziest pitch: Meeting with five angry clowns in full costume who pitched me a clown intervention show.
Guilty reality pleasure: Mob Wives
Bunim/Murray still has mainstays Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Project Runway, but the company really moved the dial in the past year when it revived The Real World for its 29th season. A format twist that put former flames in the same house goosed MTV’s reality pioneer to a three-year ratings high.
Unscripted show I wish I’d created: Project Runway. It has been such an influential format. At least I’ve had the chance to produce it since season six.
Craziest pitch: The Tragedy Tour, a series about people turning their tragedies into stand-up comedy. And just to be clear, it was the buyers who all thought the idea was crazy. I still believe in it.
Moment I knew we’d pushed a contestant too far: Contestants on reality competition shows who are so focused on winning that they push themselves too far by skipping opportunities to eat and drink water. Now we have mandatory meal times and continuously remind contestants to stay hydrated.
The respective former chiefs of 51 Minds and Original Media command a portfolio of companies including Authentic (Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) and True Entertainment (Real Housewives of Atlanta), manage an existing roster (Big Brother, Wipeout) and are signing pacts with the likes of Pitbull to develop projects.
Biggest show regret: Corwin: Losing Storm Chasers' star Tim Samaras [who died in May].
Craziest pitch: Abrego: Flavor Flav dating 16 women.
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Corwin: Courtney Love
With seven series on the air, the woman behind Jersey Shore remains committed to American subcultures. Her CMT freshman Party Down South, a coastal South Carolina incarnation of her late MTV hit, recently became the cable net's No. 1 series of all time and scored a speedy second-season renewal. She sold 75 percent of 495 to FremantleMedia in March for an estimated $40 million to $50 million.
First reality gig: The Bachelor, and I'm still watching to this day.
Biggest show regret: Not being favored nations with the Jersey Shore cast with fee negotiations.
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Rupert Murdoch. It has to be about his dating life. I don't know why I care, but I do.
With his face off of U.S. television for the first time in 12 years, Cowell is down but not out. The 54-year-old returns to the judges' table at original U.K. X Factor in the fall, after its stateside iteration's cancellation, and still holds EP credit on multiple international versions of the musical competition -- as well as America's Got Talent.
He isn't shopping anything at the moment, but don't expect him to be gone for too long.
He launched Lindsay Lohan's docuseries on OWN and hopes to strike gold with Amazing America With Sarah Palin on the Sportsman Channel this April -- all with 28 shows on 16 networks, including Fast N' Loud, Wicked Tuna, Swamp Pawn and Ghost Hunters.
Moment I knew we'd pushed a contestant too far: When a guy's scrotum was torn open on Full Metal Jousting.
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Michael Bloomberg
Toplined by VH1's lucrative Mob Wives franchise, Electus is beefing up with TBS' King of the Nerds, ABC's Bet on Your Baby, NBC's forthcoming Food Fighters and the CMT revival of beloved reality bounty hunters "Dog" and Beth Chapman.
Guilty reality pleasure: Lock Up and Brain Games
Unscripted show I wish I'd created: I would love full access to Will and Kate. There is such an incredible fascination with them worldwide.
Not part of Warner Bros.' $273 million purchase of Eyeworks' international TV efforts, Eyeworks USA remains autonomous in its production (and selling) of Extreme Weight Loss -- on-air in 150-plus territories. The latest feathers in its cap: The company programs 40-plus hours of originals on Spike and this summer sees the launch of the TBS comedy competition Funniest Wins.
Craziest pitch: Nelson: Someone came in with a sizzle that was called Gay Guys vs. Hot Girls. It was competition-based, and it had car racing, pole dancing and other various head-to-head challenges.
Moment I knew we'd pushed a contestant too far: Nelson: A very imposing football player was on our ABC show Splash. He didn't like what he saw on one of his video packages before he dove off into the water, and immediately after the show, he tracked JD and me down and wanted to know who was responsible for it.
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Roth: I'm from New Jersey, so Chris Christie. I want to put him on our ABC hit Extreme Weight Loss. If he can't take care of himself, how can he take care of our country? I can get him to lose the weight and in the process live a healthier life.
They're more than just the duo that brought the world Honey Boo Boo. Authentic's Lexton and Rogan have outgrown the unruly pageant princesses they first showcased in Toddlers & Tiaras, now touting more than 10 series in production. Those include two of fledgling Esquire Network's early successes: Knife Fight and White Collar Brawlers.
First reality gig: Lexton: Rescue 911
Biggest show regret: Rogan: A pilot featuring a guy who's on a mission to find a flatulent version of bigfoot called the Skunk Ape. I still believe it would have been a great series, but it got buried and killed like so many other pilots.
Unscripted show I wish I'd created: Lexton: Deadliest Catch
Public figure whose life merits a docuseries: Rogan: Vladimir Putin, subtitles notwithstanding.
Though Healey only joined Shed at the start of 2013, her title puts her in charge of a sprawling catalog including VH1's ever-growing Basketball Wives franchise and the New York version of Bravo's Real Housewives. She also helped lead the charge for the TLC revival of NBC castoff Who Do You Think You Are?
Biggest show regret: Choosing the best deal rather than the best home for a show.
Craziest pitch: I pitched a dating show called Cupid's Arrow about a matchmaker who tranquilized people. They'd wake up to find themselves on a blind date. It sold, and during development, it evolved into a format where a survivalist gets dropped off in the world's fiercest locations with 100 hours to get out alive It is now known as Discovery Channel's Dude, You're Screwed.
Guilty reality pleasure: Real World: Ex-plosion. Bringing exes into the show this season was genius. I had stopped watching The Real World a couple years ago but now am hooked.
With one of the fastest-rising profiles in unscripted TV, Daly has created a company with a competitive annual turnover: She has sold nearly 30 series and pilots in just three years. New MTV entry House of Food is one of her highest-profile launches yet and her seventh series to premiere on TV in 2014.
Biggest show regret: Not getting the title approval for [my show] Divine Intervention.
Craziest pitch: A man dressed as a kitschy 1950s woman performing a song and dance for network executives.
Moment I knew we'd pushed a contestant too far: When my legal consulting bill doubled.
Public figures whose life merits a docuseries: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
The pair, famous for creating Blind Date back in 1999, gave Discovery a much-needed hit in 2013 with Naked and Afraid, which debuted to 4.2 million viewers. This prompted an early renewal and paved the way for a growing number of nude contemporaries.
First reality gig: Garfinkle: Cameraman for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Biggest show regret: Renfroe: Dear Santa. Who knew it would be so difficult to cast a Santa who could pass a background check that allowed kids to sit on his lap?
Unscripted show I wish I'd created: Renfroe: Any franchise on Season 10.
Moment I knew we'd pushed a contestant too far: Garfinkle: When I was inside a small closet, consoling MC Hammer while we were filming the first season of Surreal Life.