Reality TV Power List: The 30 Most Powerful Sellers of 2015

4:44 PM 3/23/2015

by THR Staff

The business of unscripted never has been more challenged as new hits are as scarce as Kardashians at a TED conference — but these superproducers buck the trend, commanding influence and, in many instances, nine-figure deals.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
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    Mark Burnett

    CEO, United Artists Media Group

    Never one to rest on his laurels, Burnett remains one of the busiest producers in television — reality and otherwise. And in 2014, he partnered with MGM Studios for his latest venture: United Artists Media Group. The unit now is responsible for reality shows on each of the Big Four networks: ABC’s Shark Tank, NBC’s The Voice, CBS’ Survivor and Fox’s upcoming revival of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (The latter was a passion project for the Brit, who has wanted the Jeff Foxworthy game show back on broadcast since it ended its run in 2009.) This winter also saw The Celebrity Apprentice return from its long break to boosted ratings and another renewal. As for his faith-based passion projects with wife Roma Downey (NBC’s upcoming scripted miniseries A.D. The Bible Continues is poised to bow huge), Burnett hopes to take his religious success into the unscripted sphere with a yet-to-be-titled Lifetime docuseries set for the fall.

    ➻ I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN REALITY WHEN
    I needed a TV show to provide onscreen value to the sponsors of my outdoor competition Eco-Challenge — so I decided to make one, and my naivete pulled me through.

    ➻ I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    Vladimir Putin

    ➻ CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    A sustained supernatural wind arriving on a totally still night during filming of Gethsemane on The Bible, as Jesus referred to the wind. It gave me and Roma chills.

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    Only doing half my job

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    Charlie Corwin and Cris Abrego

    Co-chairmen, Endemol Shine North America

    They assumed leadership in the merging of Endemol’s and Shine’s stateside efforts (with purview of Core Media Group as well), and their stock jumped in 2014. The number of shows under their banner (Big Brother, MasterChef, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, American Idol) continues to grow as Shine exec Eden Gaha leads unscripted efforts.

    ➻ I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN REALITY WHEN
    ABREGO: I logged tapes at Bunim/Murray. It taught me: Put story first.

    ➻ TOP 3 DREAM REALITY TV DINNER GUESTS
    CORWIN: Gordon Ramsay, Flavor Flav, Joan Rivers

    ➻ PITCH I MOST REGRET
    ABREGO: A hunting/cooking show pitched to a buyer heavily involved with PETA.

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    Mike Darnell

    President, unscripted and alternative television, Warner Bros.

    Ray Mickshaw/FOX

    On top of having studio purview of TV’s top reality show (The Voice), the Fox alum’s transition from buyer to seller has seen him sell 10 new projects. He also is set to launch the ABC game show 500 Questions with Mark Burnett.

    ➻ IF I DID A “NAKED” CONCEPT SHOW, IT WOULD BE
    Naked Trampoline (lots of bouncing).

    ➻ IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    Them doing math.

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    Gordon Ramsay

    President, One Potato Two Potato Ltd.

    FOX

    A savior for Fox when other reality forays (Utopia) don’t go as planned, the chef/host/ producer continues to occupy most of the network’s unscripted real estate. MasterChef Junior even grew its ratings during its second season, prompting another speedy renewal.

    ➻ CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    Tasting mac and cheese on MasterChef and finding out the contestant made it with breast milk.

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    Executive producer of [Fox’s] Empire.

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    Ryan Seacrest

    Chairman, Ryan Seacrest Prods.

    AP Images

    Broadcast’s most coveted host, Seacrest remains the face of American Idol and continues to produce E!’s remarkably durable Kardashian empire and has projects in development across cable. Most recently, he signed on to develop an Israeli game show format for the U.S. and other territories.

    ➻ I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    Julia Child

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    A chef.

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    Thom Beers

    Chairman and CEO, FremantleMedia North America

    The company’s U.S. portfolio continues to grow with Beers at the helm. Most notably, he launched the syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game with Debmar-Mercury and already nabbed a pickup.

    ➻ WORST REALITY GIG EVER
    The first episode of Deadliest Catch. Try hitting a toilet bowl in 40-foot seas!

    ➻ TOP 3 DREAM REALITY TV DINNER GUESTS
    Ryan Seacrest, Snooki, Ozzy Osbourne

    ➻ I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    [WME co-CEO] Ari Emanuel

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    Brent Montgomery

    Owner, Leftfield Pictures

    Selling an 80 percent stake (to the tune of $360 million) to ITV Studios in 2014, Montgomery’s unscripted factory continues to churn out hits and sign big names. WWE star John Cena recently inked a deal to produce his own reality ventures.

    ➻ IF I DID A “NAKED” CONCEPT SHOW, IT WOULD BE
    Pawning Naked — the transactions would go much quicker.

    ➻ IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    Them playing Celebrity Brain Games.

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    Arthur Smith

    CEO, A. Smith & Co. Productions

    His American Ninja Warrior is becoming more and more of a summer flagship at NBC — its boosted ratings led to an extended run this past summer — and Smith also can boast 21 projects across cable and broadcast occupying more than 200 hours of unscripted airtime in 2014.

    ➻ I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    Miley Cyrus

    ➻ TOP 3 DREAM REALITY TV DINNER GUESTS
    Sarah Palin, Mike Tyson and the Property Brothers

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    A broken man who creates the world’s only combination wood-fired pizza joint/Pilates studio and moonlights as an NFL handicapper.

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    Craig Piligian

    President and CEO, Pilgrim Studios

    Piligian has 38 shows on the air and more than 100 in active development; his latest efforts include Lifetime breakout Bring It!, TLC freshman darling My Big Fat Fabulous Life and the Michael Sam doc that aired on OWN — where Piligian occupies a significant chunk of the cable net’s unscripted real estate.

    ➻ TOP 3 DREAM REALITY TV DINNER GUESTS
    Anthony Bourdain, Khloe Kardashian and Donald Trump

    ➻ I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    George and Amal Clooney

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    A marine biologist or architect.

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    Stephen Lambert and Eli Holzman

    President and chairman, respectively, All3Media America

    Its parent company acquired by Discovery Communications and Liberty Global for $930 million in 2014, the U.S. arm has added young hits True Tori (Lifetime) and Chrisley Knows Best (USA) to its roster, adding to such mainstays as CBS staple Undercover Boss.

    ➻ WORST REALITY GIG EVER
    HOLZMAN: Trying to get Harvey Weinstein on camera for Project Greenlight.

    ➻ I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN REALITY WHEN
    LAMBERT: I watched a home movie of me burying my kid brother in sand.

    ➻ IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    HOLZMAN: Them sitting still at an awards show.

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    LAMBERT: Calmer, fatter and richer.
    HOLZMAN: Modeling, in SEAL Team 6 or the NBA.

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    Tom Forman

    CEO, Relativity Television

    Relativity’s reality portfolio, which covers everything from The American Bible Challenge to controversial WE upstart Sex Box, is as eclectic as it is formidable. An active pitchman, Forman has dozens of projects in development on cable and broadcast.

    ➻ TOP 3 DREAM REALITY TV DINNER GUESTS
    Anthony Bourdain in all three chairs.

    ➻ CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    Has to be the first day of Kid Nation for CBS. As we loaded the cast and crew onto buses and headed to the location, I remember thinking: “Forty parents just gave me their kids. For 40 days. In the desert.”

    ➻ IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    Them doing a stunt appearance on Sex Box. If they’re reading this and interested, Kim and Kanye should immediately email our casting department at casting@rtvshows.com. We’re standing by.

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    Orly Adelson

    President, ITV Studios America

    Courtesy of ITV Studios America

    With Hell's Kitchen, The First 48, The Chase, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills and Cesar 911 among the series in her portfolio, Adelson has oversight of all the studio’s output since coming over from Dick Clark Productions in 2013 — including four new reality shows that bowed in 2015. Next up? A Neil Patrick Harris-hosted variety series for NBC.

    ➻ I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    Bill Clinton. It would be a fascinating insight into one of the iconic leaders of our time.

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    Working on scripted TV — but I do that, too.

    ➻ I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN REALITY WHEN
    I understood that, like in scripted, it’s about storytelling.

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    Jonathan Murray

    Chairman, Bunim/Murray Productions

    Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images

    The grand poobah of the docuseries, Murray continues to drive The Real World franchise — well into its third decade — for MTV. His Kardashian empire is set to get a jolt of buzz later in the year with the Bruce Jenner transgender docuseries.

    ➻ I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN REALITY WHEN
    I got yelled at for making the local newscast I was producing too entertaining!

    ➻ I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    Mike Darnell. He is without a doubt the most entertaining and compelling force in television.

    ➻ CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    Trying to resolve an argument between Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie that had stopped production on The Simple Life. Big thanks to their parents for helping to work things out!

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    Holly Jacobs

    EVP syndication and reality programming, Sony Pictures Television

    Still thriving six seasons in, Sony’s reality crown jewel Shark Tank picked up an Emmy and a spinoff (Beyond the Tank) in the past year. It continues to inspire copycats as its ratings defy gravity.

    ➻ IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    North by NorthWest — a family travel doc across the globe.

    ➻ IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    A therapist.

     

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    Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth

    Executive producers, Magical Elves

    Victoria Will/Invision/AP

    Two of reality’s most active producers, with one of the most recognizable brand names, they weren’t slowed by selling to the U.K.’s Tinopolis for more than $100 million. Cold Justice gave TNT a rare reality hit (and a spinoff), while Top Chef continues to be one of the most valuable brands in the Bravo portfolio.

    ➻ PITCH I MOST REGRET
    CUTFORTH: We once met Ron Jeremy to discuss a reality competition show for porn stars.
    LIPSITZ: A show where all of the contestants had failed their background checks. Strangely, this show wasn’t appealing to the network execs.

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    Simon Cowell

    Founder, Syco

    FOX

    The ex-American Idol personality is in talks with his former network, Fox, to produce a new star vehicle for him in the U.S. — not that he’s been taking it easy in the U.K., where he returned to judge the recent season of his brainchild The X Factor. That franchise, as well as his global Got Talent format, have grossed nearly $400 million in revenue since 2010.

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    Chris Grant

    CEO, Electus

    Electus continues to boost its reality roster — see E!’s highbrow House of DVF — and land shows and renewals with smart packaging and talent deals: Channing Tatum and Zac Efron goosed Running Wild With Bear Grylls ratings, and Walmart pitchman Adam Richman hosts Food Fighters, both on NBC.

    I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    Charlie Sheen

    CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    A ride-along on location for Dog and Beth: On the Hunt. The show is definitely real!

    IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    A rare-book dealer.

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    John de Mol

    Founder, Talpa Media

    Importing his Danish format Utopia proved catastrophic for Fox — but he’s still the man who created The Voice. The Endemol founder continues to innovate and make a killing in the process: ITV’s recent acquisition of Talpa could be worth up to $1.17 billion.

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    SallyAnn Salsano

    Founder and president, 495 Productions

    She turned some of her attention back to her talk-show roots in 2014, launching syndicated hit The Real, but remains one of reality’s most prominent forces with many projects in development. Party Down South is driving CMT ratings, and the cast of Jersey Shore is still in her back pocket.

    IF I DID A “NAKED” CONCEPT SHOW, IT WOULD BE
    Naked cooking with bacon or hot oil.

    IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    Them living on $40 a day.

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    Philip Segal

    CEO and executive producer, Original Productions

    Courtesy of Subject

    Since founder Thom Beers assumed control of FremantleMedia, his old shingle is more than just Storage Wars and Deadliest Catch. Discovery’s Bering Sea Gold regularly tops cable on Friday nights, and Original occupies an overwhelming number of hours on History.

    I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    Elon Musk

    IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    Working in scripted!

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    David Garfinkle and Jay Renfroe

    Executive producers, Renegade 83

    In addition to boasting series in production on three broadcast networks, Naked and Afraid is the gift that keeps on giving for Discovery. The series continues to drive ratings and A-list interest. James Franco and Seth Rogen appeared on a recent episode, which raked in 2.3 million viewers.

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    Jenny Daly

    President, T Group

    Daly, who signed a development deal with Jack Osbourne in February, continues to grow her profile, having sold 40 projects in the past three years. Her company now has more than $40 million in yearly turnover, a number likely to increase after broadcast debut A Wicked Offer (The CW) and recent BET premiere The Xperiment. She'll also producing the much-anticipated Osbournes reboot in the works at VH1.

    I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN REALITY WHEN
    I was sitting in a car with my friend, tailing O.J. Simpson on his 405 drive after the Nicole Simpson murder news erupted.

    CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    Getting arrested and thrown to the ground with a rifle to my head.

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    Pam Healey

    GM, Shed Media U.S.

    One of Warner Bros.’ most prolific reality producers, Shed launched Child Genius on Lifetime in 2015 and brought its series count to nine. Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City returns for its seventh season in April, Who Do You Think You Are? enjoys a second life on TLC, and Hello Goodbye launches on Travel Channel later this year.

    CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    Working with Rihanna on [Bravo’s] Styled to Rock. She is a superstar and so talented, it’s surreal.

    IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    Kim and Kanye: Naked and Afraid.

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    Allen Shapiro and Mike Mahan

    President and CEO, respectively, Dick Clark Productions

    Hollywood’s most prolific live-events producers have upped their unscripted game with Fox’s World’s Funniest Fails and the network’s upcoming game show Boom!. Their reality roster also includes summer stalwart So You Think You Can Dance.

    TOP 3 DREAM REALITY TV DINNER GUESTS
    Simon Cowell, Anthony Bourdain and Howard Stern

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    Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey

    Founders, World of Wonder

    A relatively niche reality boutique, WOW has been churning out flagships for smaller cable nets (RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo and Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce on Fuse) while growing the Million Dollar Listing franchise on Bravo.

    WORST REALITY GIG EVER
    BAILEY: Pamela Anderson. Love her, but even though we were doing a reality show, she was so anti-reality show, we weren’t allowed to use the "R"-word around her!

    WE’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    BARBATO: Mariah Carey!
    BAILEY: Call us, now!

    CRAZIEST MOMENT ON SET
    BARBATO: We were collecting rocks in the middle of the desert with Heidi Fleiss. A donkey wandered by, and the "WTF" look on its face said it all.

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    Chris Coelen

    CEO, Kinetic Content

    The Taste returned to ABC and Little Women: LA has been a strong performer for Lifetime, but the real success for Kinetic has been Married at First Sight. It brought cable some rare reality buzz and ratings (nearly 1 million viewers) to A+E Nets’ upstart FYI — so much so that A&E swiped the second season for itself.

    IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    Hanging out with my family more often.

    REALITY STARS I WISH WOULD MAKE A COMEBACK
    The Loud family. True originals.

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    Brant Pinvidic and Todd A. Nelson

    3Ball Entertainment

    Tweaks at the company behind Bar Rescue and My Cat From Hell have put co-founder JD Roth back in the creative trenches, developing new shows as Nelson and Pinvidic run the company creatively (formerly Eyeworks USA).

    TOP 3 DREAM REALITY TV DINNER GUESTS
    NELSON: Jillian Michaels, Adam Carolla and Jon Taffer — wait, that was last week at a Spike dinner.

    IF I CREATED A KARDASHIANS SPINOFF JUST FOR KIM AND KANYE, IT WOULD BE
    PINVIDIC: Them apologizing to Beck.

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    Jay Peterson and Todd Lubin

    Founders, Matador Content

    Barely 2 years old, Matador has made a huge impression, with 17 funded pilots, and already has placed multiple series on seven networks — including Spike’s buzzy Lip Sync Battle (April 2), a collaboration with Jimmy Fallon and his sprawling troupe of famous friends.

    I’D LOVE TO CREATE A DOCUSERIES ABOUT
    PETERSON: Kid Rock. It seems he may have the greatest life in the world.

    IF I WEREN’T WORKING IN UNSCRIPTED TV, I’D BE
    LUBIN: Searching for whatever is the second-best way to save the world.

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    Mona Scott-Young; Toby Barraud and Stefan Springman

    Founder, Monami Entertainment; CEO and President, Eastern TV

    Their output is comparatively modest, but the teams behind VH1’s wildly successful Love & Hip Hop franchise helped drive VH1 to the largest year-over-year ratings gains of any nonsports cable net in 2014.

    I KNEW I WANTED TO WORK IN REALITY WHEN
    SCOTT-YOUNG: The music business collapsed, and I decided I didn’t want to live in a box on the street.

    WORST REALITY GIG EVER
    BARRAUD: I was a soundman and had to spend a night in jail for filming an episode of Viva La Bam. The charge? Conspiracy to commit lewd conduct.

    IF I DID A “NAKED” CONCEPT SHOW, IT WOULD BE
    SPRINGMAN: Naked Blacksmithing. The apron comes off in the final act.

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    Deirdre and Scott Gurney

    Executive producers, Gurney Productions

    Even in Duck Dynasty’s humbled state, it remains cable’s top reality series. The Gurneys, housed by ITV Studios, continue to develop but have yet to launch a new hit since the Robertsons put them on the map.

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