The Real Siren of Washington, D.C.
As cofounder of Sirens Media, Rebecca Toth Diefenbach has presided over one of the few female-run reality production companies in TV. She produces not only eight unscripted crime reenactment series for Investigation Discovery, but also the singular Real Housewives of New Jersey and its upcoming spinoff, Manzo’d With Children, which received a series order from Bravo this month. Last year, when Brent Montgomery began striking deals with other producers in an attempt to turn his Leftfield Pictures into a miniempire, his friend Toth Diefenbach was the first person he reached out to.
And the fact that the road which led her here cut through Benin, one of the smallest nations in West Africa, would make for a fine reality show itself.
It was there, while working as a Peace Corps volunteer, helping women build micro-enterprises, that Toth Diefenbach decided her real calling was to make documentary films. Then biology nudged her toward pursuing that.
“I got allergies and had to leave— not a very exotic story considering all that could happen to you in the Peace Corps,” Toth Diefenbach says. She returned to Los Angeles, where she temped, couch-surfed and worked odd jobs until landing a gig as a researcher with a company called Telanova.
Going to Washington
By 2000, Toth Diefenbach was working as a freelance producer and getting more work in Washington, D.C., than in L.A. She relocated to D.C., and while freelancing there met Valerie Hasselton, a fellow freelancer producer.
Toth Diefenbach noticed she and Hasselton were being brought to meetings by the men who they worked for and introduced as “the hip young women” who would produce the show.
“I was like, ‘We don’t need the men. Let’s get rid of the men, and we can do this on our own.’”
The pair formed Sirens Media, starting with series and specials for Animal Planet. Then came Real Housewives.
At the time, Bravo was rapidly expanding the Real Housewives franchise that began with Orange County, doling out geographic areas to production companies the network liked. Sirens had impressed with a proposal about a family-run megachurch. The network passed, but handed Toth Diefenbach and Hasselton a casting deal and said, “Go see what you can find in New Jersey.”
By the time Montgomery met Toth Diefenbach at a Realscreen event in 2010, she was already married with children. A wave of consolidation, led by European companies buying up smaller U.S. outfits, had begun moving through the unscripted production space. Toth Diefenbach and Hasselton got phone calls inquiring about Sirens. The investment that would come with being a part of a larger group, they decided, would allow them to grow Sirens in a way they couldn’t on their own. The Silver Spring, Md.-based company now does so much reenactment-series work with ID that it’s the top employer of actors in the Washington area.)
Montgomery acquired Sirens last year, the first of three deals made with other producers to expand Leftfield’s reach. “She’s a really creative producer first and foremost, and a really smart, savvy businesswoman,” Montgomery says of Toth Diefenbach. “I sort of expected the woman who made Real Housewives of New Jersey to be this real hardass, and she’s just a super person.”
The feelings are mutual. “Valerie and I have known Brent for years, and we’ve always said he’s one of our favorite people in TV,” Toth Diefenbach says.
But Toth Diefenbach remains glad to be running a female-driven company— one where no man has to come along to meetings to introduce her. “Valerie and I have been lucky enough to be a part of the golden age of women in television,” she says. “You see these reports on television about how women don’t get paid as much or women are being held down in the workplace. And in our industry, it’s not at all like that. Being women has been to our advantage.”
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below.