Similar to documentary filmmaking, a reality TV sizzle reel is a 3 to 5-minute video produced and edited with the intent of showcasing three main elements of your half-hour or one-hour TV series.
First, it should be structured to highlight the idea, or “thesis.” Now, even though the term “thesis” is often not spoken in a pitch, it should be the central concept working in the back of your mind while developing your reality TV concept. It is often thought of as an “if / then” statement and it’s the seminal concept all reality TV shows are built upon.
For example, when thinking of a successful reality TV program like Discovery’s Naked and Afraid (a TV show this Writer has produced), the thesis may be: if 2 typical survivalists are literally stripped of their worldly possessions and needs including clothes, food, water, and tools – and placed in one of the planet’s harshest environments in which they must find essentials like food and water while fending off the worst mother nature has to offer (including extreme weather and wild animals)
All in 21 days (the longest a human can go without food), then how will they utilize ingenuity and survival smarts to last 3 weeks?
Second, the sizzle reel should be built around the Talent. Nearly all reality show pitches are sold based around strong, interesting, and dynamic Talent. This Talent, or “the cast” must be outspoken, strong-willed, and brave enough to be vulnerable; willing to reveal their wins as well as their losses.
Talent who isn’t 100% on board with revealing their true selves will only hamper the final sizzle reel and production companies and TV network execs will have doubts about a cast’s willingness to be honest. Audiences can smell a fake a mile away and anyone pretending on a reality TV sizzle reel will simply not connect with audiences.
Third, the style should be clearly depicted in the sizzle reel. What are your camera angles? Is this a run-and-gun, fly on the wall reality concept shot handheld with more of a focus on the verity style of the show or is it a cleaner, more thoroughly planned production with pedestal cameras and jibs like a singing competition show in the vein of The Voice?
These are all decisions that should be made before anything is shot. Knowing the thesis, the Talent, and the style before you shoot is of the utmost importance if you want to produce a sizzle that catches the attention of production companies and TV execs.