What It’s Really Like to be a Reality TV Producer

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Erin Haskett, executive producer for The Real Housewives of Toronto, gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

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reality tv producer

(Photograph: Tolar Armitt)

Age: 39

Education: Completed the Foundation Film Program at Vancouver Film School and the Producer’s Lab at the Canadian Film Centre

Length of time at current gig: 5 years

What got you interested in the producing reality television? When I was in grade five, I met a woman who was a documentary filmmaker in London, Ont. Her job was part creative, part business and part matchmaker. I was always interested in TV, theatre, and film but with her job, I was introduced to the fact that I could be a producer. From there, I kind of set out my career path.

What does a reality TV producer do? It can range anywhere from coming up with an idea to casting a concept to selling a show to developing a show to figuring out financing. It involves managing the creative and the business elements through production to seeing the show on the air.

So you’re kind of the person that makes it all happen? Yes, exactly.

What’s your typical workday like? Oh man, it’s full. I bounce back between scripted and unscripted content, and I have shows in development and ones in production and on the air. I spend my day going from calls to meetings to set visits to broadcast or pitch sessions. I do a lot of travelling, but I also have full days in my office at Lark Productions in Vancouver.

That’s so busy! How do you get in the zone in the morning? I make a list of my priorities, check my email and my schedule, have a healthy smoothie and usually have a dance party with my one-year-old daughter before I head out the door.

What role does location play in shows like The Real Housewives of Vancouver? In Vancouver, I really felt we showcased a sexier, more upscale side of the city than people had seen before. It’s that aspirational viewing; people wanted to shop where these women shopped and eat where they ate. [The Real Housewives of Vancouver ran for two seasons.]

reality tv producer

The Real Housewives of Vancouver season one cast

Any hints on settings we might see in The Real Housewives of Toronto, which will air on Slice in 2017? I grew up in Ontario, and I know Toronto really well. We’re going to be showing that beautiful, luxurious side of the city. And we’re going to spend a little bit of time in Muskoka, but that’s all I’m going to say. 

What do you look for when casting these shows? We’re looking for women who are interconnected, who have enviable lifestyles, and who have full lives and are willing not to hold anything back. The important thing for me is that people have different points of view and that they are at different stages in their lives and have true relationships with one another.

How do you judge all of that in a casting session? We ask a variety of very personal questions—everything from how they spend their holidays to the intimate details of their love lives and how they deal with conflict to how many pairs of shoes they have.

Can you tell us anything about The Real Housewives of Toronto cast? I can’t tell you, but let me just say, I’m very excited about our Toronto Housewives.

You’ve produced for all kinds shows, what is unique about producing for reality TV? The difference is that we’re dealing with real peoples’ lives. It’s a privilege to be invited into that space, but it also comes with challenges of navigating that, and appreciating the impact of bringing a camera crew and an audience into those worlds.

The audience only sees what you show them, but what goes on behind the scenes? When you’re juggling all of the events, say in our Housewives’ lives, you need a lot of people to be able to communicate what’s happening. How do we capture the story? How do we shoot it? How do we make sense of it in post-production? I think what people don’t realize is that there is a really large group of talented people behind-the-scenes.

It’s unscripted content, but do you set up scenarios or scenes you want to play out? Because this is not a show about weight-loss or cooking, it’s a show about these women and their lives, we really have to follow where their lives take us.

So how do you ensure that what happens will still make for a good episode? We shoot for three to four days before we even try and build our episodes. We shoot a ton of footage, so there’s a lot that never makes it into the show, but we do that so it’s easy to build stories that we can track and follow.

What is one of your most memorable moments on the job? During season one of The Real Housewives of Vancouver, we were shooting a private fitting party at The Room at Hudson’s Bay. But then another of our Housewives, Jody Claman, showed up and served Mary Zilba with lawsuit paperwork. [FYI: the suit claimed that Mary had made defamatory comments linking Jody’s son to a recent shooting.] We never saw it coming. It’s those moments in reality TV when you realize you can’t script this kind of drama.

What happens if you don’t catch a key moment on camera? That’s when we ask our subject in our interviews to tell the story. Housewives is full of interviews because it allows them to respond and react emotionally to the things that have happened, and also help share a point of view on story in case something happened off-screen.

What’s the best part of your day? When a piece of our story clicks. Whether it’s capturing and finding that talent or discovering a fantastic director or getting the green light on a series—I get a real high on that.

What’s the worst part of your day? I have to juggle many different things and that’s a privilege, but shifting your mindset can sometimes be challenging.

At the end of the day, how much of reality TV is actually real? When you look at where reality is going, we’ve seen a lot of what feels like the soapier version of reality. But The Real Housewives is very much set up like a documentary series.

What reality shows do you feel are really well produced? Amazing Race Canada is an excellent show. They do a fantastic job.

What attributes does a woman need to be a producer in this industry? You have to have a hunger. I knew this was what I wanted to do and that hunger, ambition, drive, and work ethic as well as a strong obsession with television and a real desire to get to know characters and story, is what has made me successful.

How do you unwind at the end of the day?  I live in Vancouver so to get outside is really important. And I watch a lot of HBO and Netflix—House of Cards and Homeland are my guilty pleasures.

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