Realscreen January/February 2019

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024 JANUARY / FEBRUARY '19 REBIRTH OF LIVE ive content is certainly not a fresh concept for the television industry, but it's a notion that's breathed new life into in the unscripted space in recent years. As it was in the early days of television, it's partly thanks to technology. Advancements in 4G cell phone broadcasting technologies help facilitate the production of such live hits as Live PD for A&E. Since its launch in October 2016, the ride-along policing series from Big Fish Entertainment has served as the leading unscripted justice series on television. In August 2018, the series averaged more than two million total viewers in primetime on Friday and Saturday nights. As a result of its summer triumphs, the A+E Networks flagship channel re-upped the franchise for 150 new episodes, adding up to 450 hours of content. To date, Live PD has been commissioned for 293 episodes. The rapid ascendancy of Live PD has provided the New York-based Big Fish with some important intel: viewer engagement is key for the live genre, and the live "hook" is no guarantee that such engagement will come right away. Thus, Big Fish, which was in June acquired by MGM, has transformed that experience and knowledge into the development of additional programming for the live environment. "I think the big thing to know when you're doing a live show is that it takes time to incubate and every series has a different length of time [needed] to incubate to be successful," says Big Fish's chief creative officer Lucilla D'Agostino. "We have various live series that we're pitching and we have live series that we are about to go into production on," she continues. "We're attempting to do live in every genre where we feel like it truly makes sense." In November, the production company paired with licensed physician and psychiatry resident Dr. Jessica Clemons on a live therapy special titled In Session with Dr. Jess. The VH1 hour-long event looked to address the stigma surrounding mental illness through an in-depth exploration with influential radio host Charlamagne Tha God and to embolden others to reveal their stories and personal struggles. "By inviting viewers to engage with [Clemons] directly on social and share their own experiences, the live format becomes essential to maintain the authenticity of the dialogue," D'Agostino says. Some experiments in live tentpole programming have paid dividends for other networks that have taken the plunge. In August, National Geographic launched the event special Yellowstone Live, which utilized cutting- edge, cell-phone bundling technology to highlight the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in real time. The live stunt attracted 13 million total viewers across Nat Geo and Nat Geo Wild over its four-night, multi-platform run. A+E's Lifetime, meanwhile, is also moving into the space. Gena McCarthy, EVP and head of unscripted at Lifetime and FYI, spent considerable time attempting to reinvent the wedding genre, what with relationship formats serving as the best performing content across the brand — led by series such as Married At First Sight and Seven Year Switch. "Live is appealing because we all live in this world in which real-time viewing habits are changing more and more — even the most successful franchises have shifted to L+3 or L+7," she explains. "Live PD was proof positive that if you have the right idea on the right brand it could cut through the competition and deliver these brilliant real- time numbers to keep people coming back week after week." For a series to break out in primetime and superserve the Lifetime audience, McCarthy says, it has to feel like a fresh reinvention and have a "very muscular" conceit — the program, in other words, has to elevate or reinvent the subject matter for viewers. Enter My Great Big Live Wedding. Produced by Los Angeles- based Thinkfactory Media, the eight-part live event series will feature eight deserving couples from different American cities as they work together with wedding and event planner David Tutera to plan out the wedding of their dreams. Slated to premiere Feb. 5, the Lifetime series is designed to play as an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in the wedding space for the "most-deserving couples in America" with "amazing, emotionally dramatic stories" to tell. "I know the [relationship] genre works because I've done about a dozen successful shows in it, but I haven't seen it done this way," says McCarthy. "The live element hopefully gives it a real-time, event- L Live PD was proof positive that if you have the right idea on the right brand it could cut through and deliver brilliant real-time numbers." McCarthy

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