‘The Talent Whisperer’ (#1): The Pitching History of Bio’s ‘Celebrity Ghost Stories’

A production company took off after making a pitch from the back of a New York City cab.

  • The show? Bio’s hit series Celebrity Ghost Stories.
  • The pitchers were Seth Jarrett & his partner Julie Insogna Jarrett.

Five years ago, Jarrett Creative delivered 2 hours.

  • In 2012: 85 hours!

This week’s Case Study: The rise of the production company nicknamed ‘The Talent Whisperer.’

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Background

  • Julie Insogna Jarrett spent 10 years at Oxygen, rising to SVP Talent + Music Programming.
  • Seth Jarrett earned his initial commissions from Disney during the 2007-8 Writers’ Strike.
  • Julie says: “Then we meandered a bit while I waited for the right moment to become his business partner. He went back to show running.”
  • “In 2009 I left Oxygen to partner with Seth.”

2009

  • They earned a commission for a docu-series with the Jonas Brothers:
    • Format:15-minutes
    • Delivered episodes: 20 over 3 years

Celebrity Ghost Stories: The Commissioning Process

  • “We pitched a show to Bio‘s Tom Moody, and he passed…”
  • “Then we asked: ‘What are you looking for?’”
  • “Tom said: ‘We’re a celebrity network and Paranormal works well for us.’”
  • “In the cab heading back to our office, Seth called Tom: ‘What about celebrities’ true ghost stories with 1st person story-telling and dramatic recreations?’”
  • “Tom called us back to his office, and Bio green lit the pilot soon after.”

Pitching Lesson

  • “Sometime you develop a story for ages, going through version after version.”
  • “And at other times it all comes together in a flash.”
  • “Our Takeaway – never be afraid to pitch any idea if your gut is telling you it works.”

CGS Format

  • 4 celebs / hour

About Bio

  • Bio is distributed to 70+/- million US homes.
  • It is a partner channel to A&E.
  • Bio’s average quarterly prime time audience is around 200,000.
  • Read more about how Bio’s improving audience compares to other US nonfiction channels.

Straight to SNL

  • The pilot aired in October 2009.
  • “We were spoofed on Saturday Night Live a week later.”
  • “We went from TV pilot to SNL – a high mark in American popular culture – in a week!”

Bio’s ‘Hail Mary’?

In 2010, DocumentaryTelevision.com asked Bio’s Tom Moody:

“What do you need to add to the programming mix to break the status quo and move Bio up to the next level?”

His answer:

“A fresh, loud, buzzy show or mega-Special in the celebrity space that feels unique and has breakout ratings potential. The show would probably feel risky vs. current offerings as most breakouts do.  What Queer Eye was to Bravo or what Ruby was to Style: We’re looking for a show that becomes part of pop culture, and not just capitalizing on existing pop culture.”

Orders

  • Bio commissioned a pilot, and then 9 episodes.
  • There have been regular reorders since, in cycles of 8 episodes.
  • Total episodes to date: 80.
  • Many attribute the network’s steady growth to Celebrity Ghost Stories.
    • “It combines two genres that were working for Bio.”
    • “It was a no brainer, in retrospect!”

Impact on Jarrrett

  • Celebrity Ghost Stories catapulted us into becoming a true production company.”
  • “We will deliver 37 CGS shows in 2012 – around one third of our expected total output.”
  • “It’s our workhorse!”

Spinoff: CGS: The Haunting Of…

  • Next came a CGS spinoff.
  • “Psychic-medium Kim Russo explores celebrities who have had their lives changed by paranormal events by returning to the site of the traumatic experience with the celebrity by her side.”
  • “Its a deep delve into the haunting experience, and how to exorcise it.”
  • Format: 1 hour.
  • Orders: 9 eps in 2012.

Talent: What’s the Acceptance Rate?

  • With her Oxygen background, Julie was confident that the talent would be available.
  • “If you have the right idea you can get the right celebrities to come on board!”
  • “The pilot celeb was Sammy Hagar from Van Halen. Others were Gina Gershon, Belinda Carter, an ‘Eighties icon, and Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters.”
  • “We asked 12 to participate and 4 said ‘Yes!'”
  • “We thoroughly vetted over 2,000 stories and picked the 300 that were the most credible.”
  • “It’s getting a little harder over time.”

Secret Weapons

What are your secret weapons for attracting celebrity talent?

1.The Booker

  • “Lesley Mallgrave is the best celebrity booker.”
  • “She booked the Golden Globes and Academy Awards: she works at the highest level booking.”

2.The Recommenders

  • “We ask celebrities who have enjoyed working with us to recommend their friends.”
  • “Ileana Douglas lined up of her 11 friends.”
  • “Around 20% of our celebs are referrals.”
Next Week
  • Key success factors
  • Takeaways
  • Next Steps (includes partnering up with Mark Burnett)

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Markets Attending / Speaking Engagements
Peter Hamilton / DocumentaryTelevision.com

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NEW CASE STUDY

The Rise of a Super-Producer Leftfield Pictures
Creator of the #1 Cable Hit ‘Pawn Stars’ 

From 1 hour produced in 1997 to 230+ hours in 2012: For a unique, detailed analysis of the phenomenal rise of Leftfield Pictures,  you can purchase ($29:95) and instantly download our original Case Study here.  It covers the pitch process, the commissions after Pawn Stars, and the success factors. Don’t miss our information-packed profile!