When production professionals Lauren Lexton and Tom Rogan decided to start their own television production company, they culled their vast experience to craft visually exciting content that contains a strong sense of story and character. Lexton’s previous titles include show runner, story editor and producer, and Rogan’s included production manager and post production supervisor. As they developed Authentic Entertainment, they kept a keen eye on the paths other production companies were following so they would know what they should avoid.
“Eleven years ago an agent at CAA was telling us we needed to brand ourselves, but we didn’t want to be pigeon-holed,” said Lexton.
Added Rogan, “We had seen other companies get pigeon-holed. ‘They do crime, they are the reenactment specialist.’ We wanted to broaden our spectrum and not be put into a box.”
Focusing on the reality genre, Authentic has a development team that is constantly searching for ideas and unique individuals from every possible location. Their hit show “Toddlers and Tiaras” arose from a video that staff member Helga Eike shot during a visit to Houston for a personal event. Other Authentic fare, including “Ace of Cakes,” “Flipping Out,” and “All on the Line with Joe Zee” started with humble beginnings. Once Lexton and Rogan determine the content would make a compelling and entertaining program, production meetings begin, focusing on the look and tone of the series.
“We spend a lot of time in pre-production focusing on how the stories need to be approached,” said Rogan. “We decide what we feel the best visual style would be and hire our entire team accordingly. With ‘Ace of Cakes’ we went to great lengths to get the visuals to match the style of the city of Baltimore.”
“With shows in New York, LA, and the south we wanted the location to feel like a character,” said Lexton. “We work with the DP to ensure that in every shot you can feel the location.”
When a series revolves around talent, such as the case of Elle Magazine’s Creative Director Joe Zee or professional house flipper Jeff Lewis, Lexton and Rogan have discovered the talent have a natural tendency towards producing. In the case of Lewis, Lexton and Rogan created a secondary vehicle entitled “Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis” after the successful “Flipping Out.” Where “Flipping Out” focuses specifically on his personality and dramas that resulted from his daily business dealings, “Interior Therapy” provides a story arc with a beginning, middle and end where Lewis must overcome not only design challenges but also build a professional relationship with difficult clients, all with the aid of his patient assistant Jenni Pulos.
Once all elements are in place Lexton and Rogan start their pitch process with a sizzle reel, hoping to court a network they feel would appreciate the content. While they often hit the mark, they have sometimes misjudged the programmer’s sensibilities, such as in the case of “Ace of Cakes.”
“We didn’t pitch it to the Food Network. Its original title was ‘Fuck You, Let’s Bake’ and we thought it was just too edgy,” said Rogan.
“They heard about it, and asked why we didn’t pitch them,” added Lexton. “We didn’t have to change the content at all. It became the first of many cake shows!”
Determining which network would be the most likely to green light a series is just one challenge Authentic faces. With an abundance of reality producers trying to sell shows and snap up talent, the playing field has become very crowded, resulting in a general skittishness from the networks towards untested ideas.
“The stakes are higher, in fact the bar is set almost unreachably high,” said Rogan. “It’s very frustrating because you see the potential in some characters but it is less likely for a network to go with something green.”
One such example of a nixed idea involved singer Macy Gray and a strip club. Feeling the show has strong potential, they are willing to shelve the idea hoping a shift in taste or viewing habits will allow them repurpose it further down the road.
Despite the challenging climate in the reality field, Authentic continues to have a robust slate of new shows hitting the airwaves. One announced series is a reality show on Bravo called “10 Things That Make Me Happy.” They also have projects actively in development, including a pilot for the travel channel.
“It will feature food in places you wouldn’t expect to find high-end dining, such as a car dealership,” said Lexton.
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