EXCLUSIVE: It’s a tough time to be a mid-sized unscripted production company right now.
A slow-down of greenlights amid cost cutting within all of the major media conglomerates, and seemingly no bump from the writers and actors strike despite what many were expecting, has led to doom and gloom across the non-scripted sector.
This has led to many companies having to undergo layoffs. Deadline understands that companies including Bunim/Murray, Half-Yard Productions and Propagate Content have all cut staff recently and more are expected to follow suit. ITV America-backed High Noon Entertainment informed its local production staff in Denver that due to production cycles, the number of workers contracted when shows weren’t in production would be reduced. We hear Hot Snakes Media is in a similar situation.
“It’s the toughest time to be in unscripted that I can remember,” one unscripted producer told Deadline.
Another source said it was a “brutal” moment in the sector given all of the layoffs.
Bunim/Murray Productions, part of the Banijay empire, is best known for producing long-running series such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians and The Real World, with more recent projects including The Challenge, for networks including MTV and CBS, Paramount+’s The Family Stallone and the first season of Prime Video’s Lizzo’s Watch Out For the Big Grrrls as well as CBS’ upcoming Buddy Games and Hulu’s Vanderpump Villa. We understand the company is cutting around eight staffers.
Half Yard-Productions, run by former History boss Dirk Hoogstra, is behind series such as TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, Hulu’s Secrets & Sisterhood: The Sozahdahs and Netflix’s I Just Killed My Dad. The changes are understood to be part of a move to “right-size” the business, which is now part of Peter Chernin’s The North Road Company.
Propagate Content, run by Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens, is behind TLC’s The Culpo Sisters and NBC’s American Song Contest as well as Netflix sports docs from its Untold strand including recent launch Johnny Football. The company is also in the scripted business.
High Noon is responsible for shows such as Netflix’s How To Build a Sex Room, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ HGTV series Fixer Upper and Good Bones, which is ending with its eighth season on the same network. Sources told Deadline that the company has managed to secure commissions outside of its traditional Warner Bros Discovery pipeline, but that these titles have yet to start filming.
Hot Snakes Media, run by Eric and Shannon Evangelista, are behind Netflix’s Deaf U and Discovery+’s Pig Royalty as well as long-running TLC reality series Breaking Amish.
The latter two companies don’t consider these moves layoffs, but it’s still a sign of an unsettled unscripted market.
These cuts have coincided with a number of network executives leaving their companies.
Warner Bros Discovery, which operates cable networks including Discovery Channel, TLC, ID, Science Channel and Animal Planet as well as the former Scripps networks such as Food Network and HGTV and former Turner-branded networks such as TNT, TBS and truTV, made a number of layoffs across unscripted.
These included Amy Introcaso-Davis, who is EVP, Development and Production, Factual Programming, Discovery; Caroline Perez, SVP, Development and Production at Discovery; and a slew of execs across Food Network, HGTV and TLC.
Paramount, another company with a multitude of non-scripted-focused networks, was also hit in May. Chris McCarthy’s MTV Entertainment Studios/Showtime and Paramount Media Networks reduced its team by 25%. Those cuts, which also included the closure of MTV News, saw the departure of execs including Jessica Zalkind, SVP, Talent and Series Development, MTV Networks; and Todd Radnitz, SVP of Original Unscripted Series at MTV Entertainment Group and Paramount+.
Last week, Deadline revealed that A+E Networks was also making changes. Lifetime chief Amy Winter and Tanya Lopez left, with Elaine Frontain Bryant taking over in addition to her work on A&E.
There are, however, a few bright spots.
The CW has been buying; former NBCUniversal exec Heather Olander joined the network, which is increasing its unscripted slate to around 50% of its schedule.
Olander, who bought FBoy Island and its spinoff FGirl Island after it was canceled at Max, told Deadline in June that the entertainment business as a whole was challenging.
“There’s less dollars invested in programming period,” she said. “Budgets have definitely come down, as ratings have come down, but just have to come down because the math has to work. But I think it’s still a great business, in success. If you can find a format that works and spend less money on producing it, but it goes on to have a successful life, it’s valuable and there’s still really big upside. It’s more challenging for producers, grappling for ownership, it’s still a good business to be in.”
The broadcast networks are also still looking for new hits with the likes of Fox ordering John De Mol’s The Floor alongside a number of other new formats, and CBS launching a reality-heavy schedule with series such as Lotería Loca, Raid the Cage and Josh Duhamel’s Buddy Games.