Reality Gets Into the Game

AMC is stepping up its sports reality game with several shows it hopes will draw more adult male viewers to the service.

While the network isn’t looking to challenge ESPN for games just yet, it is banking on celebrity- driven content that uses sports as a backdrop, such as arm wrestling-themed Game of Arms, the Chris Hardwick-produced All-Star Celebrity Bowling, and a wrestling series starring Smashing Pumpkins lead Billy Corgan.

“Sports is a natural,” said Joel Stillerman, executive vice president of original programming production and digital content for AMC. “If your focus is the 25-54 year-old male skew, it would be hard to ignore sports.”

AMC is the latest cable network to step into the sports-themed reality ring. Fare ranging from HBO’s NFL-themed documentary series Hard Knocks and its 24/7 boxing series; Showtime’s boxing show All Access; competition series such as Fox Sports 1’s Ultimate Fighter, Esquire TV’s White Collar Brawlers and Discovery’s Street Outlaws; and traditional reality fare such as E!’s Total Divas have all drawn both male and female sports fans with their mix of action and behindthe-scenes coverage.

TV historian Tim Brooks said the sports genre provides reality show producers with a recognizable product that has a built-in audience. Add a popular celebrity or athlete, or colorful characters to the mix, and the shows can draw casual viewers and sports fans alike.

“If you can package it so that it offers more than watching people play the game, you have a chance to bring in a broader audience,” Brooks said.

For AMC, the play is working. Game of Arms, which chronicles arm wrestling clubs around the country, averaged 724,000 total viewers during its freshman spring run. The upcoming 4th and Loud will have more of a celebrity skew as it follows KISS band members and Arena Football League team owners Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons during the inaugural season of their Los Angeles KISS AFL team.

“It’s one way of not going directly to reality sports or the celeb-reality bucket, but to mix those two things up and create something that would really be potent,” he said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.