Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a small obsession with author reality shows. It's the kind of concept that would seem like a complete non-starter--watching authors sit at their desks for hours at a time? Or, alternatively, avoiding sitting at their desks for any time at all? Not exactly riveting viewing. Yet over the past few years, no fewer than five author reality shows have attempted to get off the ground. Let's recap.
- Book Millionaire. The brainchild of Lori Prokop, owner of her very own vanity press, this show was to feature "Eight people with dreams of seeing their book ideas become published and being the next author launched to best selling and celebrity status." It never got beyond the video audition stage.
- The Ultimate Author. Created by journalist and self-published author Lauren Spicer, this show promised contestants "go[ing] toe-to-toe in a writing competition that tests their ability to develop attention-grabbing content." At least one show appears to have been taped, but there's no sign it was ever broadcast.
- American Book Factory. Four books were to be co-written by teams of authors "competing for what could turn into a major book deal." This one is dead as a doornail.
- Healeth Publisher. In connection with an Internet TV company, Healeth promised a reality show competition "that will change the publishing game forever." It's DOA as well.
- Publish My Book! Proposed by Tony Cowell, Simon Cowell's brother, this is the only author reality show that seemed even marginally credible. But it fared no better than the rest. Announced for the summer of 2007, it has never appeared.
Five shows; five failures. Nevertheless, a sixth author reality show appears poised for launch: The WRITE Stuff, which, apparently unaware of its predecessors, bills itself as "America's First Literary Reality Show" (caution: the website features intensely annoying music).
In a history-making reality show hosted by Conversations Book Club President/Publicist Cyrus A. Webb, a total of 14 contestants will be chosen to compete in a contest that will challenge not only their creativity but their drive and determination to make it in the business. Whether their desire is to pursue a career as an author, playwright or spoken word artist, this show will give them the ability to showcase nationally what they are able to do.
Exactly how is not detailed on the website, which provides no info on show formats or schedules. The winner receives a one-book deal and 10 "virtual copies" of their book from AG Press, two years of representation by Cyrus Webb's Shadow Play Entertainment, and a variety of other stuff, including "a detailed marketing plan," a Dell laptop, and features in online and print magazines, most of which appear to be ventures owned or operated by Mr. Webb.
Auditions have been conducted and candidates chosen. Judges have been confirmed, some successful commercially-published authors among them. Reading/networking parties are being conducted in various locations. National and local TV channels are being "courted"; the show will also be broadcast on The WRITE Stuff's YouTube channel. It's even claimed that the show has entered into a deal with Coca-Cola-owned Vitaminwater, but I can't find any independent confirmation of this arrangement. (Though The WriteStuff has produced its own YouTube commercial featuring the product, that commercial, interestingly, isn't listed on the show's YouTube channel.)
According to the website, the first show is slated to air this June. So will The WRITE Stuff be the one author reality show to actually become, well, real?
This recent article by journalist Adam Lynch, published in the Jackson Free Press, reveals that Cyrus Webb does not exactly have a strong track record when it comes to public events. Lynch reports that in in 2005, a Webb-organized talent show (for which participants had to sell sponsorships), failed to pay the winner the promised prize of $2,000, and rewarded him only with "[a] computer printout...of an award certificate in a cheap frame." In 2006, Webb sold $50 tickets for the supposedly exclusive Missisippi's Best Awards show, but delivered an event with "no celebrities, no food and paltry awards, which Webb printed himself on his personal computer." (The debacle is discussed in detail in an earlier article by Brian Johnson, and also in a couple of lengthy discussion threads on the Jackson Free Press website, which feature many angry comments from people who attended the show.) As part of the events surrounding the awards show, Webb announced that he was booking several contestants from the hit reality show Project Runway, but the contestants apparently later claimed that he never paid their promised appearance fees and expenses.
Lynch also reports that several of the TV stations that Webb claims as potential markets for The WRITE Stuff deny having any arrangement with him. “We were only aware of the show because the network brought it to our attention, and I made sure we didn’t have it scheduled. If it were to come to our attention, we probably wouldn’t air it because we believe it’s produced without our approval,” says the Vice President of CW69 in Atlanta, Tom Canedo. As of this writing, however, that channel is still listed on Webb's website.
It also turns out that the show isn't so much a show as...an infomercial. “When I was on WAPT-16," Lynch quotes Webb as saying, "I would buy a block of time, and you have 28 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s basically how it works, only instead of selling a blender, it will actually be a show.”
A show with prizes. But what about those prizes? There's not a lot of info floating around about Webb's Shadow Play Entertainment, but I can't discover that it has a significant track record of marketing or promoting books. As for that one-book deal with AG Press...remember the Lanaia Lee Of Atlantis plagiarism uproar? And Lee's "literary agent," Cheryl T. Pillsbury? Well, guess who owns AG Press (which, by the way, isn't really a publisher at all, but a self-publishing service). That's right: Cheryl T. Pillsbury.
I'll say this for Cyrus Webb: he's ambitious. Though The WRITE Stuff hasn't yet aired, he's already planning a spinoff...in Nigeria.