Vin Di Bona | CEO, Vin Di Bona
The Television Writers Vault is honored to welcome
legendary television producer, Vin Di Bona,
for a personal interview with Scott Manville in our
continuing series of conversations with key Industry
Mr. Di Bona is a pioneer in television programming,
producing reality-based formats long before it
became ”Reality TV”. Hit franchises created and
produced include; “Battle of the Network Stars”,
“America’s Funniest People”, “Entertainment
Tonight”, “MacGyver”, and “America’s Funniest Home
Videos”. In the midst of today’s reality TV boom, he
has continued to rise above the commonly
exploitative reality stunts, to deliver quality
family entertainment with fun and clever content,
often blending reality and game elements.
Vin Di Bona is a four-time Emmy Award-winning
producer and recipient of the prestigious George
Foster Peabody Award for his work in documentary
programming. We hope all of our members enjoy the
privilege of his perspectives, as he truly knows
Scott Manville: It's
wonderful to have you with us. I know that many in
the industry, including our Writers and Producers at
the TV Writers Vault, will find your perspectives
truly valuable. And many Producers and Format
Creators could only dream of the success you've had
with America's Funniest Home Videos.
Vin Di Bona: I should say at the start, the
success of AFV is due much in part to the writing.
Todd Thicke and his staff add smart, often,
counterpoint comments that make an inherently funny
video twice as funny.
SM: Collaboration in creativity always helps. If I
can roll back a bit- I loved growing up watching
“Battle of the Network Stars” on the weekends with
my Dad. Or hearing the “Entertainment Tonight” theme
playing in the evening… Mom was cooking dinner, Dad
was home from work, the family was together… it was
a good feeling. A lot of us who grew up in the 70’s
should say thanks for the good feelings.
VDB: I produced the last big Battle [“of the Network
Stars”] (Battle 19) and had the luxury of using
clips from all the previous shows…it was a blast to
produce. With Entertainment Tonight, it was like
being in The Wild West…a lot by the gut, and a lot
SM: I’d love to know how you came to developing and
producing reality-based TV back then, in a time when
programming must have been very narrow… with only
scripted series’, or live sports coverage, and news.
How did you discover what was essentially "reality
tv" in a time where you really had no reference to
VDB: I started a WBZ-TV in Boston…I was responsible
for producing a four hour special every month for
two years. The first hour was a documentary on
changing community needs followed by a live three
hour call-in show based on the issue of the evening.
I produced and directed both the documentary and the
live call-in as well. It was a great experience.
First and foremost, our formats had to entertain. I
did an hour documentary for KCBS about the play Zoot
Suit and I convinced Gordon Davidson to let me shoot
parts of the play to include in the documentary.
SM: Seeing how far reality programming has evolved,
with shows often pushing the envelope of privacy and
appropriateness, what do you feel about reality tv
VDB: Many thrive on obnoxious people in outrageous
situations…not my cup of tea…I believe in a great
format that offers tension and ways to solve
SM: Do you have any favorites?
VDB: “Battleplan” (Military Channel), “Shark Tank” &
SM: One of my favorite shows that you produced and
aired right at the thrust of the new reality boom
was "The Big Moment." [A family is given a limited
amount of time to master unique stunts or talents
that they must successfully perform on live TV to
win cash]. I loved it. You had the reality aspect of
it, seeing the families at home with all the
frustration and fun of practicing, then the
pressures of the live performance, and the variety
of it all. Was it as fun to Produce as it was to
VDB: It was a favorite of mine…loaded with
challenge, fun and tension….my favorite moment of
all time is the housewife who hasn’t been able to
pull the table cloth out from under the dishes all
week and gets it right on the show.
SM: I remember that! Comedy being universal... if I
can ask about foreign markets. During the past
decade we’ve seen a healthy exchange in formats-
Developing shows for foreign territories, and
adapting proven formats in foreign arenas for
domestic distribution. Have you taken any of your
shows overseas? Is that an area of exploitation that
you pursue with projects?
VDB: We have been to London several times…offering
formats…some have sold, but none really successful.
SM: We've seen a huge evolution in television over
the decades, with so many changes. What hasn't
VDB: A good idea still makes a breakthrough show!
Copycats always fade quickly.
SM: What advice can you give to the aspiring format
Writer or Producer starting out in this Industry?
VDB: Look at trends…check out the newsstands to see
what popular magazines report about.
SM: How would you measure the amount of opportunity
there may be in Hollywood for new writers today,
versus aspiring writers and producers of decades
VDB: In our business, it has become increasingly
more difficult to become an entrepreneur…and to own
one’s own material & format. The sad news is that
today’s young writers have much less chance to
succeed than writers in the past…ideas have to be
sharper and more unique to cut through the maze.
SM: So much of success is a result of overcoming
great challenges, or failures, especially in this
industry. Can you share with us any monumental
challenges you may have had to overcome, that we may
not know of, but that may have been a catalyst in
your ultimate success?
VDB: When I sold my first network series (Animal
Crack-ups), that sale was the result of 138 pitches.
My second show (AFV) was sold in four minutes on the
SM: What do you look forward to experiencing, as
your career continues?
VDB: Staying current, creating new family shows and
continuing to have fun.
SM: Mr. Di Bona, It’s been a true pleasure. Thank
you so much for sharing your time with us. I can’t
wait to see more great shows from you.
VDB: Good luck to all…if you believe in your
projects…never give up!