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Cat Deely, Jeff Probst and more talk Reality TV

June 20, 2013|Yvonne Villarreal
  • Reality TV hosts Mark Cuban, left, Cat Deely, Jeff Probst and Carson Daly.
Reality TV hosts Mark Cuban, left, Cat Deely, Jeff Probst and Carson Daly. (Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles…)

Reality TV bestows upon the viewing public a glut of entertainments: dancers portraying flitting hummingbirds trying to seduce a blooming flower; entrepreneurs who've found an extra use for pillow cases by making them into dresses; adventurers threatening to urinate on rice (and beans); even four of music's top performers swirling in big red chairs. And the ratings come pouring in. The Envelope gathered four faces of reality TV (some of whom double as executive producers) — Carson Daly of NBC's "The Voice," Cat Deeley of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," Jeff Probst of CBS' "Survivor" and Mark Cuban of ABC's "Shark Tank" — to talk about longevity in the genre, the push and pull of dealing with contestants and the waning power of "American Idol."

(This transcript of the discussion, held at the Times on May 2, has been edited for length.)

You guys are the faces of some pretty popular shows on TV right now. What do you think it is about your shows that audiences have connected with?

Jeff Probst: Its format, usually — the star of "Survivor" is the format. It works. It works all over the world. Same with "Shark Tank," which we watch every Friday night with our kids. You guys disagree?

Mark Cuban: No. No. I agree.

You Can Dance?"

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Cat Deeley: I also think that the format can completely change. What people really connect with are the human stories. It's the human elements. It's the "will they/won't they." It's the, "Can they do it?" It's the, "Will we make it to the next…?"

Carson Daly: You know what it is? It's the authenticity.

Deeley: Yes. Absolutely.

Daly: We love your show because there really was this authenticity to it. You know? And for "The Voice," we almost took a page from that. In our early production meetings, it was, "We want to be authentic and credible," are two big words that we threw around. And that's really what you guys do.

Jeff, you're going on 26 seasons, and you're currently in it.

Probst: It's incredible.

Deeley: (gasps) 26? Oh, my God.

13 years. Two a year. Do you find it hard to find those authentic moments? When people audition now, aren't they savvy to what you guys are expecting?

Probst: Yeah, but your job is to weed out who's putting you on and find the real deal. All these shows to some degree or another have their system, whether it's psych testing or whether it's the way you interview them and how often and when. And you get them where they're a little uneven so that you can make sure that you're getting the real deal. But I think the key to the longevity of Survivor is it's always the same, only different. It's that sweet spot. We never change the format, but we tweak it just enough that it's still familiar, but there's something new to do.

Daly: For us at "The Voice," I mean, it's a show that's done quite well for NBC Universal at a time when they've been struggling. And when they rolled it out to straddle their annual schedule, that was a point of contention for us as producers. Is it too much? Ironically enough, in today's — everybody's so thirsty for content. When we take our break now between fall and spring, it feels like what used to be the annual break. People are ready for it again. Out of sight, out of mind.

Deeley: We once did "Dance" twice in a year and, actually, it did hurt us because we have a smaller pool to draw on, you know what I mean, of trained dancers, that're able to do those kind of things. We struggled to get another set of people and it actually hurt us a little bit, weirdly.

Daly: At first, it's like, how big is the singing pool out there?

Probst: But what I like about "The Voice" is I don't actually think of it as a singing competition show. You guys know which pieces are in play, and you know how to utilize them in the best possible way. But I really don't care if the person ends up having a career. I'm not invested in them to become a star. I'm invested in the process of watching a dream be born or killed.

That's an interesting point about whether it's about the contestant's aspirations and their journey or if it's the success they've reached afterward. I mean, these kids don't get the hit records like "American Idol." What do you make of what people really should be focusing on?

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