Bravo: First Straight. Then Gay. Now Rocked by a Reality Suicide. What’s New? How Many? Who’s Producing?

‘High Risk’ is a key filter for a successful Reality series.

  • And the closer to the edge the better!

But Bravo network recently found itself way beyond a respectable level of jeopardy when a Real Housewives husband sadly took his own life.

Beverly Hills’ Russell Armstrong had earlier blamed the series for magnifying the tension in his marriage in its pursuit of ratings.

This week, we revisit Bravo’s 30+ year journey from the high end of cultural programming to a dark moment in its mission to define American Pop culture.

As usual, we ask:

  • What are they looking for?
  • What’s new in 2011?
  • How many shows?
  • Who are the producers?

And behind the pay wall in our ‘Sweet Spots Study’:

  • What does Bravo pay for a Reality series?
  • What is the production budget for a show like Housewives?
  • What rights do the networks demand?

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Pre-history

Cablevision launched Bravo in 1980

  • It was the only channel on U.S. cable that was ad-free and dedicated to the cinema, drama and the performing arts.
  • Highlights of the schedule were Cirque du Soleil and Inside the Actor’s Studio.

NBC acquired Bravo from Cablevision in 2002

  • Like the Female-targeted Oxygen, Bravo is now a member of the Comcast/NBC/Universal colossus that includes NBC, USA, SyFy, CNBC, MSNBC, The Weather Channel and Telemundo.

Gay Makeover

  • NBC carried out a radical makeover that refocused the schedule on Reality shows
  • Bravo came out with Gay Weddings and The It Factor
  • Queer Eye for a Straight Guy (2003) was the first breakout hit on the new, ad-supported and ‘post Arts & Culture’ Bravo
    • Queer Eye featured five gay guys giving lifestyle makeovers to five straight men
    • Hitting 3.5 million viewers, it was the pinnacle of Bravo’s brief gay-themed era
  • Bravo’s audience doubled in just two years
  • And the Median Age dropped from 52 to 45!

The Bravo DNA: A Triple Helix

Queer Eye provided the DNA for the Reality formats that anchor Bravo’s schedule today:

  1. Programs are cast around an ensemble of amusing and emotionally accessible characters. Many would call them ‘unstable’
  2. And they have the potential to ‘nest’ the star of the next hot series
  3. And as with all Reality-driven channels, the shows both embrace and aspire to lead the popular culture

The elimination series Project Runway followed Queer Eye as Bravo’s next hit show.

  • But Runway then sank into litigation and finally moved to Lifetime in 2009.

Troubled Housewives

Bravo followed up with another pop culture hit, the ensemble reality franchise Real Housewives.

  • Spinoffs bubbled up from coast to coast: O.C. (Orange County), NYC, Atlanta, D.C., Miami, New Jersey and Beverly Hills

Housewives ran true to the Bravo DNA, spinning off Bethenny Getting Married?

  • Bethenny was created around a standout cast member of Housewives.
  • The premiere episode in 2010 attracted a Bravo record of 2.1 million viewers.

However, the Housewives franchise and Bravo were rocked this summer by the suicide of Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong. There were calls to cancel the series.

  • Our friend and colleague Gary Lico (CableU) commented in last Sunday’s New York Times that ‘he was disappointed that “most of America is immune to the bigger issue here,” the issue being mental health. (Gary) recalled attending a television conference last year where both a producer and a network executive, in separate sessions, talked about recruiting people with bipolar disorders for reality shows.’
  • A leading program developer called us with another view:
    • It’s not Bravo’s fault. Reality talent should think twice about what they sign up for. When you’re a public figure your personal life becomes open to all, and even more so for reality TV which is based on revealing the most intimate details of the personal lives of the all-volunteer ‘cast.’
  • Bravo announced that it is airing several suicide awareness PSAs during the show, and that it is offering resources including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via Bravo.tv.
  • Beverly Hills returned to Bravo on September 5 after a round trip to the edit suite, where Mr Armstrong had been removed from the story. The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley commented:
    • ‘Even by the low standards of reality television, Bravo’s determination to slither past suicide and accountability was, well, chilling.’

Distribution / Viewing

  • Reaches nearly 95 million U.S. homes
  • Targets Adults 18-49, Females, and particularly Women 18-49
  • Broke into the Top 20 of all networks in 2009 in the coveted A18-49 demo
  • Bravo is 60%+ Female
  • The Median Age has dropped to around a youthful 40
  • The audience continues to expand: we reported earlier that Bravo’s average primetime grew 28% in 1Q 2011 vs 1Q 2010. That’s a big surge in today’s ferociously crowded market!
  • For 2Q 2011, Bravo’s average prime time audience was 913,000

Competition

  • Bravo’s competitors include A&E, Lifetime, VH1, E!, TLC, Oxygen, Food Network and HGTV.

Pipeline

  • Bravo has over 30 original series in production
  • 19 of them are returning programs

Program Categories 2011

For this year’s Upfronts, Bravo announced the five key categories of the network’s programming strategy:

  • Food
  • Fashion
  • Beauty
  • Design
  • Pop

Bravo at the 2011 Upfronts

Bravo announced eleven new Reality series comprising 100+/ hours. Most orders are for 10+/- hours.

New Series

Title (wt) Producer
Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis Authentic Entt
(It’s a Brad Brad World) Shed Media
The Therapist Intuitive Entt
Mad Fashion Matt Westmore / No Regrets
Million Dollar Listing NY World of Wonder
Miss Advised RelativityREAL / Blondie Girl
Most Eligible: Dallas Pink Sneakers
Project Soulmate Intuitive Entt
Roble & Co Red Line
(Ready to Wear) Leftfield Pictures
Tabatha Takes Over Reveille

The pop celebrity flavor of the Bravo Upfronts is captured here.

Producers

  • All U.S. channels rely on a cadre of ‘preferred producers’ who are successful suppliers to several networks.
  • As well as the Pawn Stars hit maker Leftfield Pictures, the ‘super-producers’ who earned new green lights from Bravo are Authentic, Shed, Intuitive, World of Wonder, RelativityREAL, and Reveille.

The Spinoffs

True to Bravo’s ‘nesting’ DNA, 2011 spinoff series include:

  • Tabatha Takes Over (Tabatha!)
  • It’s a Brad Brad World (Flipping Out)
  • The Therapist (Rachel Zoe)
  • Mad Fashion (Project Runway)
  • Million Dollar Listing NY (Million Dollar Listing)

Questions and Takeaways

There are just too many lessons and unanswered questions to take away from Bravo’s journey. Here are two of them:

1. Reality TV is a runaway train.

  • It doesn’t slow down for crime, death or the most appalling behavior.
  • We can only guess at the scale of personal disaster or the depths of depravity revealed about a talent that would derail a hit Reality franchise like Housewives.

2. The ‘Queer Eye Factor’. Will it work for Rosie and OWN?

  • Whenever programmers get together and someone writes off the prospects of a struggling channel, some wise head shakes and says, ‘Don’t forget Queer Eye!’
  • Bravo’s 2003 hit led a huge turnaround: a brand with near zero impact is now an industry and pop culture leader.  Every programmer of every failing channel prays for the Queer Eye Factor to show up on their schedule.

But is the Queer Eye Factor repeatable today?

  • Some say that the spectrum is so much more crowded, reactive and imitative to allow a competitor to break through like Bravo did with Queer Eye
  • Others point to Jersey Shore and MTV’s return from the pop culture wilderness
  • Could Rosie O’Donnell’s upcoming talk show rocket the struggling OWN Oprah Winfrey Network out of the massive indifference shown by its intended audience?  We doubt it.
  • Watch out for our thoughts on OWN in an upcoming DocumentaryTelevision.com

Extra Reading for More Credits

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!!THE SWEET SPOTS!!

‘Sweet Spots’ Study: What Do U.S. Networks Pay for Programs?
Production Cost Benchmarks: Signature / High / Sweet Spot / Low
Pipelines. Target Demos.
Key Programming Contacts, and More!
25+ U.S. Cable Channels
Docs & Reality
Proprietary, interview-based research
Don’t make a pitch – or attend a job interview – without it!

Learn More …

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