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Producer Perspective: Doug DePriest of Big Fish Entertainment

Doug DePriest has seen life from both sides of the fence, having been a network executive and an independent producer. For eight years he was head of production and development at Travel Channel, where he launched thousands of hours of programming including the World Poker Tour, a minor cultural revolution which may have warped the values of an entire generation. If that wasn't damaging enough, DePriest also helped launch the Weather Channel's early hurricane coverage. Finally in a fit of repentance, he joined the Gospel Music Channel as VP of programming, production and development (now in 50 million homes). Today, DePriest is president of Big Fish Entertainment.

1. Where do you find inspiration for a new show idea?

Often in the shower! Of course, I'm half kidding. Most show ideas end up being offshoots in some form or fashion of something you are already involved in producing. I think it is a natural offshoot of the fact that no one really pays for development, so you end up doing more of what you are already know. If it's dangerous jobs, you just do more, if it's clip shows, that's the organizations you have built so you produce more, if you specialize in families with 8 or more, well you just find more or they find you. I think we (Big Fish) are diversifying because we have to out of necessity. We have four projects in development with interest from a variety of networks and the only thing that ties them all together is that they all look like Big Fish.

2. What research do you do before going into a pitching session?

I start by trying to find out if the exec has committed any unknown crime that I might be able to exploit. Actually, you have to know the network's schedule, know the ratings to a certain extent. My goal is to walk out of a meeting knowing why the network believes something is working, why they think something they once believed in failed. The reality is that the best sales people are people who know how to listen. Our industry is filled with people who think they know more than the network, a serious mistake. And that's why I believe that there is a bright future out there, if you know how to listen for it.

3. What advice do you have for upstart producers trying to get their foot in the door?

Consider another profession. Seriously!

4. What show do you wish you had produced and why?

The programs that I wish I had produced are the ones that I developed but just didn't get to market fast enough to sell. I'd list them but It would just sound like I was whining.

5. What types of shows do you think are most in demand now?

Shows about super large families and anything produced by Thom Beers.

6. What types of programs do you wish were in demand now? (or think should be)

There's no such thing as "should be" in commercial television production or programming. There is only what sells and what rates. We have one network dedicated to "should be" in television and it is called PBS. I think people watch it in New York, Boston and Washington D.C.

7. What types of projects interest you most and why?

I like concepts that have a visual edge. My partner, Dan Cesareo and I are both directors, we both love post production. Because of that, Big Fish looks different. We are very visual storytellers and that is what we look for in a project, other than a buyer.

8. How important do you think it is for your show idea to have an online component?

If I somehow manage to escape business affairs with a monetized piece of the on-line component than it is very, very important to me. Which of course, never happens. Added value wise, I think online can be a remarkable component for the right projects and for those projects it should be a priority and integral from the start. But if it is by design a rote promotional element then it is still important, but should be done with as few resources as possible. Right now, online badly needs a revenue stream so the in-house network teams and outside producers can really be creative. For me, I didn't wake up this morning thinking that I should commit more resources to online.

9. Where does most of your budget funding come from, if not from the network?

So far, Big Fish has been fully commissioned. My background as a network exec involved creating a variety of co-productions in order to leverage as many international dollars as possible, so in the future we will look for co-pro opportunities. I spent a year launching the World Poker tour within the Discovery family and that was a very non-traditional funding model. I'm comfortable with a variety of business models. As I write this, we have concepts going in front of broadcasters that have a lot of moving pieces. To be succesful, you want a mix of commissions, co-pros and non-traditional revenue opportunities. It all comes down to your appetite for risk. As for me, security has always been a myth.

10. How often do you attend industry conferences and festivals, and which are most important for your business?

I've attended them all: MIPS, NATPE, Realscreen, etc. -- from the network side as well as the producer side. I'm leaning towards Realscreen as being the most valuable to my company only because it matches up so closely with our client base. Plus, all of my friends come and it is great to feel like you are part of a larger community, regardless of how deluded and demented that community might be. MIPs are extraordinarily useful for growing your business but remarkably expensive as well. Although I'd love to stop in and see if the Martinez still has that plaque dedicated to ... well it's a long story and involves way too many people who still have responsible jobs running networks and such. Maybe next blog.