April 23, 2013 11:20am PT by Philiana Ng
Former MTV Gurus on Ke$ha's Unique Appeal and Why They Want an Eminem Show (Q&A)
It's a homecoming for former MTV executives Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley.
The pair, through their DiGa production company, rolls out -- rolls out Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life (debuting at 11 p.m. Tuesday) on MTV.
Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful LIfe is a docu-series that dives into the 26-year-old singer's personal and professional life. What sets it apart from other celebrity-based reality shows is that it was filmed over two years by none other than her brother, Lagan Sebert.
Known for developing popular fare at the cabler like Laguna Beach, The Hills and Jersey Shore, DiSanto and Gateley are banking on Ke$ha's "strong appeal" to females and the teenage set to rouse interest and offer something "different and fresh," as Gateley puts it. But the duo is well aware of the glut of reality offerings all vying for a small piece of the pie compared to just a decade ago when a show like Laguna Beach ruled the roost. That's why for them, as cliche as it maySite configuration sound, "authenticity" is paramount.
"There’s a big bulls--- factor with any audience, especially the MTV audience, and I think they are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for," Gateley tells The Hollywood Reporter. DiSanto adds: "You’re looking for something special, that they’re taking you to a unique world." Hopefully Ke$ha is that answer.
DiSanto and Gateley talked to THR about getting into business with Ke$ha, how they plan on cutting through the clutter, why A&E's Duck Dynasty reigns and why Eminem is the ultimate get.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why did you want to get into business with Ke$ha?
Liz Gateley: I always thought she was an intriguing person. She has a strong appeal to female teens and all teens, which Tony and I wanted in the past. When her brother Lagan brought us what was already shot, there was a unique lens with someone intimately related to Ke$ha. You’re capturing moments you wouldn’t normally get from some of the other shows that have been out there. This is showing all of Ke$ha.
Tony DiSanto: There’s also that personal sibling bond behind the camera and in front of the camera. No matter how many times in the past we’ve said "hey, this is uncensored," "this is real," even when you saw a film like Truth or Dare, it’s never 100 percent because there’s an awareness of the camera. People change the way they are when there’s a camera introduced, particularly when it’s someone they don’t know operating that camera. At the time, Lagan was looking to do a documentary. We looked at it and said we could take this footage and turn this into a unique series that would be unlike we’ve seen before. Because of the unique situation in that it was shot over the course of two years, you get real character development. There is a different Ke$ha at the end than at the beginning.
THR: What makes her appealing?
Gateley: There’s a scene where a fan who has been through a hard time confides in her about how a song helped him through, and she’s someone who cares deeply about her fans to the point where she develops relationships with them. She is a person that grew up in a musical family, was influenced by her mother. She’s earned this success, but she’s still the party rock anthem queen. The flip side, I’ve never seen an artist stay up all night with her friends.
DiSanto: It’s honestly not a rock doc. It's a coming of age of a young woman as an artist and as an adult woman. She’s struggling with the two sides.
THR: What do you look for when you do these celebrity-based documentary shows? There are a lot more out there now.
Gateley: I agree. We really look for, and it’s an overused term, authenticity. There’s a big bulls--- factor with any audience, especially the MTV audience and I think they are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. Whether we're dealing with a star or someone we meet in casting they have to be people who are willing to expose themselves and who people can relate to.
DiSanto: You’re looking for something special, that they’re taking you to a unique world. We always wait to look to see, "OK they’re being themselves, they’re being real and they're a unique character who stands out." They don’t feel like an iteration of a character that you’ve seen before. That’s why when we did Run’s House it seemed like the most logical move because it was the antithesis of the other family show, The Osbournes. We always like to find the new sort of take.
THR: How do you plan to address the fact that a big name now doesn’t seem to cut it anymore in this current landscape?
Gateley: It’s all about offering something different and fresh. Ke$ha is a great character; she has her own language and calls things "ladyboners." There's not one moment in the whole show (Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life) that’s produced, where we knew what was going to happen ahead of time.
THR: What have you guys noticed in the changes in reality TV now versus a decade ago?
Gateley: Great characters are always going to work, whether it’s Duck Dynasty or Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. The most important thing is that what you’re producing and the look matches what the show is and the vision, and that the vision and the execution match who the characters are. What’s exciting about right now is there’s a variance in the market place that’s, and as producers it’s nice to play in different aspects of that.
DiSanto: Now reality TV is on so many ends of the spectrum. It’s great to see things cut through that wouldn't have in the past. In the past, things had to be loud to cut through certain pages. To see Duck Dynasty hit the way it did, people are interested in interesting characters, interesting stories executed well. For the younger audience, they seem to be responding to stuff that seems more real probably because they live in the YouTube/social network kind of world where they’re documenting real reality every second.
THR: Do you think that because there are so many different spaces now it's impacted the ability for there to be another reality TV phenomenon?
Gateley: There will always be room for another gigantic hit, but it’s difficult and it’s rare so we feel very lucky we were associated with some of those (i.e. Jersey Shore). We are confident that those shows are out there and will break through.
DiSanto: I mean you never say never. I remember back in the late '90s, they said music videos were dead on TV and there was no way it was ever going to work. Then we developed TRL and TRL became a hit. I do think that it’s probably more difficult now because of the amount of choices. I think the difficulty level makes the bar better, makes people work harder to make better programing because not just anything is going to work.
THR: What shows out there do you wish you produced or were a part of?
DiSanto: The success of The Kardashians is something we would’ve wanted to have done. The way the Kardashians blew up in pop culture, the tone of the storytelling, that is something that would have been great to be part of and felt on brand for us.
Gateley: I’m a huge fan of Duck Dynasty. They’ve done a good job with the characters and developing that show and watching it grow. Would I have gravitated to those characters given our background? I don’t know that I would have found them. There isn't one [show] I feel has gotten away from me right now. I watch a lot of competition, but I don't think there's one right now where I feel has created that one new genre in a way other tentpole shows changed TV.
THR: Whom do you want to work with for a project?
DiSanto: Knowing it probably would never happen, I think there’s an interesting unknown character in Eminem. That’s there’s something about him, his lifestyle, his intelligence and what he’s all about that would make for incredible, eye-opening television, but again it’s a long shot.
THR: Are there any other spaces in unscripted that you are looking to get into or believe are untapped at the moment?
DiSanto: I'd like to try something new and different in the not-quite-reenactment space and not-quite-in-the-reaityl space that we’ve been playing with. There’s something there in that format.
Gateley: Even though we're known for the docu-series we’ve been associated with, we have different things in development, from talk to scripted to event to format, but we always played with a diversity because we’ve never been satisfied doing one thing. That’s really how we built our company and that’s exactly what we did for MTV. There are producers who are really, really good at event or really, really good at docu-series, but we’re playing in a lot of different spaces, which is fun for us.
Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life premieres at 11 p.m. Tuesday on MTV.