Thursday 23 May 2013
The Television Writers Vault | Executive
| Company Founder & Executive Producer
The Gurin Company
the explosion of reality tv and the
global format business, Executive
Producer Phil Gurin navigates the
always-evolving landscape of TV
programming with a killer instinct for
strategy, and a spot-on intuition for
what audiences around the world love to
engage as viewers.
Adept at genres ranging from studio game
shows to docu-reality and live-event
productions, he has a passion for
storytelling and character development
that have become his hallmark, stemming
from his early career as a writer. As a
result, he now has shows in various
stages of development and production in
more than 30 countries, and spanning
more than a dozen U.S. outlets.
Gurin has created, written and/or
produced thousands of hours of
television, with shows appearing on
networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC,
UPN, PBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, USA,
FX, GSN, CMT, HBO, Lifetime, A&E, Bravo,
TV Guide Channel and Discovery Channel,
along with numerous shows in
syndication. He currently produces
"Shark Tank" with Mark Burnett. His
(NBC network and syndication),
(NBC, and the #1 Show on CMT), and
(CBS). He has newly created shows
debuting soon in France, Germany and the
UK. Some of his earlier career includes
working on shows for MTV (Remote
and Nickelodeon (Double
Dare, Wild And Crazy Kids),
as well as
New Years Eve Live
Test The Nation
(FOX), and The US Olympics Hall of Fame
Having developed strong relationships
with marquee International talent, such
as Donald Trump, Ryan Seacrest, Regis
Philbin, Mark Burnett and countless others, Gurin
continues to expand the development and
packaging of new formats for imminent
success. We’re honored to share this
time with him, exploring his world of
creation, and his approach to producing
for today’s television market.
Thanks for taking the time out of your
schedule to chat with us, Phil. I’m very
excited to share your perspectives with
other Producers and Writers at the TV
The level of success you’ve accomplished
with a refreshingly varied slate of
formats is inspiring. What brought you
into this business, and what led you to
having such a broad, yet specific ,sense
of what works for television audiences?
I fell into this side of the business
completely by accident. I began my
career as a writer and development guy,
working with some great producers and
studios developing movies, miniseries
and dramas. But I needed a job once and
wound up working on MTV's "Remote
Control", and that changed everything.
Over the years I worked as a
writer-producer-director for nearly 70
different companies before I hung out my
shingle as an independent producer. And
I've always hoped that the things I
like, that interest me, are popular,
mainstream forms of entertainment. It's
what I enjoy watching so I guess it's
what I enjoy making.
Can you detail for us the current focus
and agenda for The Gurin Company? Any
exciting new projects ready to launch?
Our company is constantly developing new
shows, building new relationships both
here in the US and with producers,
creators, talent and broadcasters all
over the world. International
television is truly exciting. Meeting
people and exchanging ideas - and
commerce - with like-minded people from
all over the globe is both good business
and basically just plain ol' fun.
With my own background developing game
formats for Merv, I have a particular
admiration of your success in producing
game shows. How have you seen the genre
change over the past decade?
Everything that's old is new again.
When one thing works, everyone jumps on
the bandwagon and thinks that that is
now the only way to do things. The best
executives are the ones who take the
initial risk on the style of a format,
and then when it works, it's seems to
set the pace. When "Millionaire" broke,
every show had to have a money ladder,
one contestant playing against the
house, and really cool sets and music.
And, of course, every show that came
after it had some sort of "lifeline".
Then, with "Deal or No Deal", every
show has to have family members rooting
for you in the audience, and some sort
of omniscient "banker". There have been
stunt shows, panel shows, dating shows,
comedy shows, Q&A shows, and they all
worked before and will all work again.
It's just aligning the right format
with the right producers, designers and
talent. Its alchemy, and we'd all be
rich if we all were right all of the
Would you agree that reality television
has refreshed the game genre and what
audiences will embrace as a format?
It's like I was just saying. Sure,
reality has influenced game shows, but
truly it is the other way around. Every
reality competition show is a game show,
and every one of them can be traced back
to some original source or influence
during the past 75 years. Audiences,
though, will embrace something that is
well made and doesn't feel like it's the
same old thing with a new wrapper on it.
It does seem that some of today’s game
shows in the U.S. are born out of a
clever gimmick; whether it be sending
expensive merchandise off the top of a
building at the mercy of a ticking
clock, or picking numbers showcased by a
bevy of beauties... Is there ever a time
or place for a more emotional narrative
in a game show? Must it always be light
"Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" has
drama. "Moment of Truth" had emotional
narrative. I absolutely believe game
shows can have that kind of depth. But
they need not be exploitative to
succeed. Create a game that is easy to
understand, compelling, cast well, and
the story will unfold in a great way
that audiences will appreciate.
Of course, by the very word "game" in
the title, a game should be something
people want to play - and play should be
fun. There is absolutely nothing wrong
in working in a genre where the highest
ideal is to have fun.
What is the appetite for new game
formats today? Does the genre have more
heat over seas?
Traditional US game show outlets -
daytime syndication, cable, network –
are constantly in a state of flux.
There was a time when all game shows
were launched in network daytime. Maybe
the current economic climate will help
bring that need back. We all know that
there hasn't been a successful
syndicated game show launch of a title
that didn't first appear on network in,
what, 30 years? The big broadcast
networks will still develop a big, wide
reaching game show. I would like to see
the advent of other game show outlets.
Around the world, game shows are a wide
part of the television diet in virtually
every culture. That used to be true
here in the United States. In some
respects I don't think many executives
buying programming think it's cool to
develop game shows. It's not what they
want to talk about when they are hanging
out with their friends, or trying to
leverage their careers. But all careers
are helped by success, and if a great
game brings in both eyeballs and
revenue, then I guarantee the ballsy
executive who helps launch a great game
show will watch their career grow, too.
The Gurin Company has a global reach,
producing and distributing formats for
television around the world. How do you
view the traffic flow of formats being
exploited globally? Is there a larger
appetite for European formats being
brought to the U.S. market? Or is there
opportunity in exporting formats to
I have been speaking about this for
nearly a decade. I have always welcomed
the flow of content from abroad into the
United States. But the reverse is just
as viable. Americans are GREAT creators
of ideas and formats. The rest of the
world sees America as the Holy Grail
when it comes to where they want to sell
and produce their shows. But the rest
of world is hungry for great ideas, and
Americans should be eager to share
original product with everyone,
everywhere. We should be the leading
exporter, not only the leading importer,
of creative game and reality formats.
If a Writer or Producer has a new format
for a game show, is there any element
other than the format itself that can
give it an edge for selling to a
Network? Or is it strictly about the
format and proposed content?
The idea is king. Plain and simple.
But it has to be made well, and it
needs many elements to succeed. I
always say a good game needs to have
both sizzle AND the steak. The steak is
the solid format. The sizzle is what
makes it a television show and not a
Lets talk reality. It seems that in
about ‘03, the genre just took off with
new life, opening up the possibilities
of new formats and unique content for
TV. What is it specifically, that you
feel will give reality TV its longevity?
Reality is a part of the television
diet that has always been here, but no
one called it that. Candid Camera is 60
years old. Reality never left; the
broadcasters just realized it could fill
more parts of the schedule. And with an
entire generation, now maybe a second
generation, having grown up watching
cable reality shows shot with Flip
cameras and stuff, everyone is used to
seeing any kind of video on television.
It is here to stay, and that's a good
Do you think reality programming has
evolved in a good direction over the
past decade? Do you see audience’s
tastes moving in any new direction?
Audiences - and I'm an audience, and
you are an audience - what do we want?
To watch something that will hold our
interest. Whatever that is, whatever
mood we are in. Reality television is
so mature now that it has the same ups
and downs as the scripted business.
Things move in waves, in cycles, and
one kind of reality will lead to another
and then another and then another and
then, maybe, back again.
We’ve seen countless successful reality
programs that are derivative of others,
especially in format. Do you, yourself,
push for more original and unique
wrinkles and twists in formats as you’re
developing a concept, or does the
content really dictate the best format?
I have a simple philosophy about
pitching: if it is already on the air,
don't bother to pitch it. If the
networks send out word that they are
looking for one type of show, move on to
something else, because it's likely that
once the need is announced, somebody
else got there first. Go create
something that is not on anyone's radar.
Take us inside your process of
conceiving and developing an idea? Where
do you get your inspiration, and how do
you work it out?
If I knew, I would tell you. I just
hope we talk enough about things inside
my company, and take a thorough,
professional approach to fleshing the
idea out to the fullest. Ask yourself:
What am I going to see onscreen? What's
the eye candy for the viewer? And is
there a beginning, middle and an end?
What is the narrative through-line?
Every genre - game, music, variety,
reality, etc. - every show has to tell a
story. So think it through, be able to
answer every question, and spend time
developing only those things you would
be passionate about to make. And
finally, think about the broadcast
outlet you are asking to give you money
to make your show, and wonder if the
idea and its execution will bring in
millions of eyeballs to make it worth it
for the broadcaster to write you that
Is producing docu-reality a refreshing
change-up from the world of formats?
I am sure it is for some people, but I
am more interested in shows that can
travel the world, and the formats I work
on are designed to be international in
appeal. Docu-soaps tend to be local in
value to distributing a docu-series
internationally? Or is the potential
more insulated because it may only
relate to our pop-culture?
You are absolutely right. Some
docu-soaps about ideas and interesting
non-celebrities can travel, but American
celebs? Will they really care around
When scouting subjects or people for a
possible docu-style series, what do you
look for? What makes for a show?
For me, on the docu-soaps we are
developing, it has to have an idea that
can travel. I am simply not interested
in docusoaps that are US-centric.
What’s easier to sell as a Producer; a
Game Show Format, A Reality-Competition
Format, or a Docu-Style Series? And what
is your favorite to produce?
I like all forms of entertainment.
Light entertainment. Shiny floors,
moving lights... that's me. Music,
variety, comedy, game…entertainment.
For Writers and Producers at the TV
Writers Vault, what advice can you give
on selling original concepts and formats
Know your idea inside and out. Ask
yourself all of the hard questions
before you go pitch someone your idea.
Don't be derivative; if you are, you
are probably too late to sell it. Be
original. Be thorough. And don't be
clever, be clear. It will help in the
In your view, is Hollywood a
collaborative community driven by
“idea”, or an insulated machine driven
It's neither. It's a mess. And that's
what makes it fun.
Thank you again for your time and
perspectives. We’re excited to see your
Thanks. And good luck to you and
everyone at the
TV Writers Vault.