By Joe Tash
Somewhere in America, an idea for the next hit reality television show is hatching in someone’s brain, and Scott Manville wants to bring it to life.
Six years ago, the Carmel Valley resident launched The TV Writers Vault, a website (www.tvwritersvault.com) where anyone with an idea for a new television show can catch the attention of television executives with the power to bring such concepts into reality.
Over the past 18 months, Manville said, the site has caught fire, with traffic tripling. Two reality shows, one in Canada and one in the United States, have made it to the airwaves after being pitched originally on The TV Writers Vault, he said.
“What I like about our site is a housewife in Missouri can pitch an idea and a producer who produces “American Idol” can like it and produce it,” said Manville. “It’s truly a wide-open door to buyers of ideas for shows. It’s all about the idea.”
The way the site works is this: a writer who has a script or proposal for a new show pays a membership fee of $40 per month, which allows him or her to post the idea on the site. A roster of television executives, now numbering more than 300 strong, visits the site regularly to search for ideas with the potential of being the next big hit.
The industry types who troll the site for ideas represent such networks and production companies as CBS, ABC, Fox and Fremantle Media North America, which produces “American Idol,” Manville said.
“We have the top industry executives involved,” he said.
Oliver Bogner, an independent producer based in Los Angeles, said he visits the site all the time, and is negotiating with a major cable network for a show that he discovered through a contact he made on The TV Writers Vault.
“I think it’s a resource that allows people from all over the country, and all walks of life, to get in touch with people in Hollywood that are actually making things happen,” Bogner said.
Since the site was launched, more than 10,000 people have submitted ideas, some of them making multiple pitches. While Manville said anyone with a good idea has an opportunity to get noticed by a television producer through the site, the odds are long — so far, about 30 writers have signed option deals with production companies, meaning the company pays a small fee for exclusive rights to an idea.
The company then must find a network willing to finance the production.
“We’re selling TV shows, not vacuum cleaners. So it’s a tough thing,” he said.
In some cases, pilots are shot for shows that never make it to air. Two shows from TV Writers Vault have made it into full production and broadcast: One, called “Deals from the Dark Side,” features two men who drive around in a hearse, searching for “dark treasures,” such as Jack the Ripper’s knife, or a robe worn by a monk from the Spanish Inquisition. The show is currently airing in Canada and will soon land on a U.S. network, Manville said.
The second show, about chainsaw sculptors, is called “Saw Dogs” and is airing on Discovery’s Velocity Channel.
Among the ideas that have been pitched on the site are a sitcom about dogs; a man who sells boats and sails around the world to deliver them to his customers; a family that wanted to film their reunion with long-lost relatives in Germany; and a former professional wrestler who runs a used car lot with three brothers.
While writers can pitch any kind of TV show on the site, from a game show to a drama, about 70 percent of the activity revolves around “reality-based projects,” about an interesting business, profession, lifestyle or unique family situation, Manville said.
One popular current example is “Gold Rush,” about a group of amateur prospectors in Alaska, which airs on the Discovery Channel.
Manville, 40, runs the website from the home he shares with his wife, Jessica, and twin toddlers Chance and Chelsea.
Before launching the website, Manville worked as head of development for Merv Griffin Entertainment.
Along with making his living in the television development business, Manville counts himself as a major fan of the reality genre.
“I’m addicted to all these shows. I love them,” he said.
“Seeing a real person face a real challenge and getting to see an unexpected result in real time will always be more interesting” than a fictional drama, he said.
For 2012, Manville’s goal is to launch a similar site in the U.K., which he said also has a huge appetite for reality-based programming.