TruTV is headed into its upfront season with a new slate of reality programs and a new mandate: define "reality."
These days, said executive vp and COO Marc Juris, the discussion of reality programming isn't nearly nuanced enough. "It's like going to Smith & Wollensky and ordering a plate of meat," Juris told Adweek in his Time Warner Center office last week.
The network will team up with Nielsen to create an easier-to-read classification system for reality content in a way that distinguishes content that has more in common with Ken Burns' The Civil War from the next big Housewives franchise wannabe.
This year, the network is pumping Impractical Jokers, a recently renewed series about four guys who play increasingly embarrassing pranks on each other à la Jackass. Juris said the network is looking to create more "snackable" content and to make it as multiscreen as possible.
There's much on the TruTV slate that sounds familiar—Container Wars (not to be confused with Storage Wars), a show where contestants participate in auctions of abandoned storage units; and Hardcore Pawn: Fort Bragg, which takes the network's pawnbroker franchise to North Carolina.
But there are also some extremely original programs coming up this year, including Killer Karaoke, a game show in which contestants must continue to sing regardless of what indignity Jackass alum Steve-O decides to inflict on them.
Juris is obviously proud of the series—it occupies a significant chunk of his ad buyer presentation—and while the network is doing a road show instead of a big New York event this year, it's hard not to imagine the spectacle getting laughs in the boardroom too. There's also Guinness World Records Gone Wild, featuring dangerous stunts like a man wearing very little protective gear backflipping over an oncoming car. Three times in a row.
Joe Hogan, who sells TruTV for parent company Turner, said that even reality shows as offbeat as these offer sponsorship opportunities—frequently precisely because they're so silly.
Hogan gives as an example a recent integration Tru did with Kellogg's. The "jokers" from the network's flagship show staged a giveaway in which two of the show's stars (who look deceptively normal) were told to hand out free boxes of the cereal but to obey orders they heard over earpieces from the off-camera pair. One stunt requires a "joker" to crush his body repeatedly against a hapless, cereal-wanting man as his friend chuckles. "In the cut, you have the impractical jokers hugging a consumer saying 'It's bursting with flavor,'" said Hogan. Yes. Hugging.
Regardless, the brand ends up in the show and a lot of people come away associating it with laughs.
"It's just one of those shows that lends itself to a bunch of different categories," said Hogan.
For Killer Karaoke, Hogan said the possibilities are similarly various. The clip shown from the upcoming show features a woman, who's had to reach into several boxes containing things like pigeons and striker snakes, half-laughing, half-sobbing, still singing as she reaches, terrified, into a box containing a teddy bear.
"You could replace a teddy bear with a lot of fun different products," mused Hogan. May we suggest a bottle of Purell?