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Reality shows are still the wild west of the entertainment industry, at least when it comes to the pitch into production process. Anyone can create a hit, and there is no set way these shows come into being, but there are maverick gunslingers around every turn, looking to loot your idea.

The next hit show could be as close as your quaint Midwestern hometown, or as basic as turning the camera on a bunch of macho guys male-bonding in the woods. Often, the simplest ideas are the best. Of course, there are many highly contrived reality shows on the air and waiting in the wings. But for new or novice producers, it’s better to keep the concept simple and clear.

More often than not, new producers get tripped up not so much in the conception or creative phase, but in the business and sales process of going from idea to screen. It’s true, the hurdles that can come between your good idea and getting the show sold are many. Yet a good measure of proactive business strategy can go a long way. Do things right from the start, and you have a much better chance of avoiding getting your idea ripped off, or having your show idea fall victim to unresolvable business disputes. Once you’ve found your idea, or what you feel strongly is material for a show, there are some crucial steps you need to take.

First, you need to secure the rights and make sure you have a solid collaboration agreement. If your show is going to focus on a charismatic leading character, you need to make a deal with that person before you go and shop the show. This agreement will spell out what you are authorized to do on that person’s behalf in the process of trying to sell the show. It should also delineate what happens if/when the show is sold. Further, the agreement will have a definitive time period during which it is in force, and, after that, may provide for renewal or extensions.

Second, before you go around telling everyone about your great idea, take some precautions. If you have written a treatment for the show, register the treatment. If you’re going to be talking to producers, be selective. Know who might be able to help you and who doesn’t have anything to offer that you couldn’t do yourself. New producers often benefit from making an alliance with an experienced showrunner, or a production company that has a development deal with a network. But if the other guy has no particular credits or connections, you might as well pass. You should only bring on another producer if he or she brings something to the table. Otherwise, you are just as well off making the pitches yourself.

Third, if you do find someone you want as your co-producer, make sure you iron out what the deal is going to be between the two of you. You must have a shopping deal memo (or contract) in place before the show can be taken to the network, or anywhere else that might be able to produce it. If you don’t have your legal ducks in a row, the networks or whomever aren’t likely to wait around until you get that sorted. Have it done before the pitch meetings happen.

Every deal is different in this business, and reality shows are no exception. Make sure your agreements are specific and that they provide for all contingencies. Make the right defensive moves and you just might become the Svengali of the next Honey Boo Boo.