Reality TV 101

Reality TV classWebster University's Non-Scripted Storytelling and Producing class gives students a chance to learn the art of telling a story without a script.

ST. LOUIS, September 23, 2013 - From toddlers in beauty pageants to bachelorettes looking for love, television offers a wide variety of reality shows.  According to Neilson, more than 50 percent of the primetime television audience is tuned into a reality TV show. Fans of the shows might think that capturing the drama is as easy as pointing the camera and pressing record, but a new class at Webster University is showing students the art behind the process of unscripted television.

This is the first semester for the Non-Scripted Storytelling and Producing class in Webster's School of Communications and the students not only learn about the variety and types of shows on television, they are learning all of the steps that go into creating a riveting unscripted television series – and they're learning it straight from the professionals.

Tim Breitbach is the instructor of the course and a vice president of story development at Coolfire Originals, a St. Louis-based production studio behind a number of popular reality shows including “Welcome to Sweetie Pies,” “Mom Friends Forever,” “Funeral Boss” and “Hatfield's and McCoy's: White Lightening.” Writers, directors, producers and on-screen talent from Coolfire Originals shows will help out throughout the semester.

“We are helping students learn the steps from start to finish,” said Steve Luebbert, vice president of development at Coolfire reality tv class studentsOriginals. “From developing an idea to pitching, to selling, to production – everything including how to keep a show on the air is covered in class.”

The popularity of reality television is proof enough that this class is an important option for students interested in a career in this industry.

“If you want to work in it, you have to know how it works,” said Breitbach. “It's important to taste a lot of different styles and see all of the different offerings in unscripted television”

Brittany Larimore, a film production major, was excited to learn more about the reality genre.

“I believe reality television is evolving. It's becoming less about the shock value and more about learning something about ourselves or about our world,” said Larimore. “We're seeing more shows that are meant to educate us.”

Students of the course are working closely with the show “Mom Friends Forever,” on NickMom, a docu-series about two St. Louis area moms who have their own popular video blog. While “Mom Friends Forever” captures the real-life and family of Kate Frisina-White and Judi Diamond, the creation of the show was more complex than simply turning on the camera and recording the action.

“The biggest thing I've learned from the class is that although reality TV shows don't require a script and are based on spontaneous events, some elements of scriptwriting still apply,” said Larimore.

Breitbach agreed that this is an important lesson for students.

“To be a good storyteller, they have to be a good interviewer and also be a good scriptwriter to tie it all together,” he said. “A story producer is one part journalist, one part script writer and one part psychic. They have to know how to ask the right questions, how to figure out what the character will do and then be able to guess how others will react.”

Throughout the semester students are learning about the jobs available in reality television and the different types of non-scripted shows on television. They are also getting hands-on experience putting together an episodic grid, an outline and a “series story bible.” Students will go on location to observe a shooting of one of Coolfire Originals shows.

Jeff Keane, the Chief Executive Officer of Coolfire Originals, thinks this is an important offering for students.

“As television evolves and changes, we are able to help Webster University's course offerings evolve and change to meet those trends,” said Keane.

Reality tv classroomThe fall semester course filled up with students who were eager to learn about this evolving medium, and while not all are planning to go into a career producing reality television, students are finding the lessons to be beneficial.

“The skills we are learning in how to create a pitch and pitch an idea are things that have value in all aspects of business,” said John Launius, a video production major. “The more that I can learn about how others create and attack the creative process, the more I can incorporate what is successful into my own workflow and projects.”

For more information on registering for the Non-Scripted Storytelling and Producing Course, contact the School of Communications