Over the years, Pittsburgh has developed a reputation for producing reality TV stars. Two Pittsburghers have won “Survivor,” and locals have appeared on “The Amazing Race,” “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Got Talent,” to name a few, plus who could forget when former Steelers star Hines Ward claimed the Mirror Ball Trophy on “Dancing with the Stars?” This pedigree of reality stars is one of the reasons Emmy winning TV producer Bob Kusbit and “Survivor” and reality TV casting manager Ellen Berkman Davis were able to team up with the Pittsburgh Innovative Media Incubator to find “Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star.”
“I’m a Pittsburgh girl,” said Davis. “The way we talk [in Pittsburgh] is very genuine….My approach to casting is very grassroots–I always want to look in the neighborhoods. I was really interested in the project here because Pittsburgh is my neighborhood.”
Kusbit, a Latrobe native and Clarion College alumnus, agreed. “Pittsburghers are great simply because they aren’t New Yorkers, or from L.A. or Miami. In those cities, people are very aware of the media and they all want to be stars. When you’re removed from that, you live your own life and do what makes you happy. Someone who’s a colorful character in Pittsburgh is doing it because that’s who they really are. At the end of the day, if you’re faking it, the audience will see through it and the show won’t work. Pittsburgh is full of people who are being themselves on a daily basis, and that’s exactly what we need for reality TV.”
Both Kusbit and Davis returned to Pittsburgh from New York and Los Angeles, respectively, because they valued Pittsburgh as a great, affordable place to raise their families. After returning to Pittsburgh, both got involved as judges with the Steeltown Film Factory, and it was through Steeltown CEO Carl Kurlander that the two met. “Steeltown has really done a lot to build up the entertainment industry in Pittsburgh,” Kusbit said. “We thought ‘Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star’ was a stunt that would be good for everybody. It was a good way to get Steeltown ties in the entertainment community, it would benefit Pittsburgh as a community by showing off how many creative people we have here, and it would be good for my production company because it would help us find someone interesting to build a show around.”
Kusbit is the President of One Louder Productions, and he produced a number of series, including MTV’s multiple-Emmy winning reality “MADE.” Davis was a casting manager for such reality shows as “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.” “Ellen was the perfect person to partner with because of her casting experience with these huge reality shows,” Kusbit said. In cooperation with the Pittsburgh Innovative Media Incubator, the two agreed to team up to hold the contest to scour Pittsburgh for the next dynamic Pittsburgher to be the star of a reality series. “Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star” set up a website calling for applicants, held open calling in places like the South Hills Village, and started a Facebook page promoting the contest. “We found a wealth of talent, and endlessly interesting people” Davis said. “We had a number of excellent applicants, and I think we’ve chosen a great story about people with great hearts.”
“In the past, if you weren’t from New York or L.A., people would wonder what you were doing pitching shows,” Kusbit said. Now the bias has gone away. The more people who [work in the industry from outside of New York and L.A.], the more New York and L.A. people are willing to work with them.” Davis echoed similar sentiments: “When I was in L.A., it was huge, and I wanted to make it feel like Pittsburgh. Living back here was a choice for that reason.”
You can get a sneak peek at the winner -, Chet with his partner Bob, two farmers mentoring girls to become pageant contestants – this year’s “Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star” in this piece from KDKA TV.