PRIMETIME: How Can I Be a Guest Expert on Talk or Reality Shows?

As always, thanks to everyone who emailed, posted, and responded to last week’s post about the usefulness of coverage services.  They’re still coming in, and I’ll get to as many as I can over the next few weeks.

Today, however, I wanted to respond to April, a non-fiction author who first emailed me a few weeks ago.  April has written a book about how divorce affects children, and she asks…

Who or which producer should I send my book to if I’m trying to either become a guest, utilized as an expert, etc., on a talk show, court show or reality television show?

Well, April there are actually two separate paths/issues here:

  • Getting on talk shows to chat about and/or promote your book
  • Having a career as an expert, where you get paid to appear on shows, offer expertise, etc.

While these two goals—and their answers/paths—may overlap, they’re a bit different.

If your goal is to become a “professional expert,” someone making money by appearing on talk shows and reality shows, you’re best served by getting an agent, someone who has professional contacts in the world of talk and reality and has a roster of expert clients.

I’m going to assume, however—since you have a new book and you’re trying to break in—that your real need is getting on shows to talk about and promote you and your book.  (And from there, hopefully, you get some good traction to begin more of a “career” as a guest expert.)  SO…

The first question isn’t which producer to contact… it’s which show.

I may be the right show for you... and I may not.

You have to send your book to the right talk show, says Jen Sawalha, who has been a “human interest” producer for The Tyra Banks Show, The Dr. Phil Show, Lifechangers with Dr. Drew, and The Wanda Sykes Show. “You wouldn’t send that book (about kids and divorce) to Ellen, because Ellen isn’t going to have a guest like that on her show.  But you could pitch to The Dr. Phil Show or The Wendy Williams Show or The Talk, which would probably be an excellent show for [April] to pitch.”

If your book has been published by a major publishing house, you’ve probably—and hopefully—been assigned an in-house publicist who submits you for these opportunities.

“When I get calls,” says Jen, “it’s usually from the publishing house.  If the book is self-published, [April] needs to do it on her own.”

Fortunately, in today’s world of the Internet, online media, and social networking, being your own publicist is easier than ever (which doesn’t mean it’s “easy,” per se… it’s just easy-er).

The next step, after deciding which shows to target, is knowing when to contact each show.

Many, like Dr. Phil, operate on fall-through-spring schedules, taking a hiatus over the summer months.  A handful, like The Talk, run year-round… with a few weeks off here and there.

You definitely don’t want to contact a show as they’re winding down for their hiatus.  However, you also don’t want to contact a show as they’re just returning, gearing up for a new season.

“Never pitch at the end of summer” when shows are starting up, warns Jen. “You’ll end up in an email list of a thousand” and get lost or forgotten.

The holidays, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, are also a dangerous time to pitch.

Once you’re actually ready to connect, you need to track down shows’ contact info.

Most shows have some kind of contact info on their website, but it’s often a generic online email form.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of these—it always seems like sending a message into a black hole—so I recommend calling 411/Information and getting the general phone number of each show’s network.  If you’re not 100 percent sure where your show is actually shot, call 411 in L.A. or NY; most major networks have offices in both.

(As a little experiment, I just used Information to track down ABC’s general number in New York—212-456-7777—and asked them to connect me to Good Morning America. I told them I was a publicist who represented book authors, and I wanted to pitch someone as a guest expert.  They put me right through.)

The REAL phone book to the stars.

Another terrific resource for tracking down shows’ contact info is the Hollywood Creative Directory.  Although it’s a subscription service, it offers contact info for almost every show, studio, and production company in television.  (You can also use iMDBPro, but I don’t know how effective it would be for talk shows.)

You can even use social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter.  “Good Morning, America and all the big morning shows are on Twitter,” says Jen.  “Tweet at them.  A lot of producers find experts on Twitter now.”

Once you’re connected to a production office, ask who takes expert and/or book pitches; see if you can nab their email or snail-mail address.  You’re looking for a human interest producer… NOT a celebrity producer, who books celebrity guests.

Your job is then to pitch yourself to the human interest producer.

You may get them on the phone, or you may need to send material through the mail or electronically.

“There’s an art to pitching yourself,” says Jen.  “Step outside yourself and feel that your best friend… or your mother is pitching you.  Somebody close to you will always pitch the best of you, [and] sometimes people aren’t good at doing that.”

Jen also suggests being ready to talk succinctly about topics besides yourself and your book.  What current events could you comment on, quickly and insightfully?  If, for example, you have a book about kids and divorce, perhaps you could offer unique insight into Charlie Sheen.  If your book is about recovering emotionally or spiritually after losing a loved one, perhaps you could apply this to the tragedies in Japan.  As Jen says, “How can you spin [yourself] to be authentic with any kind of situation?”

Secondly, SEND A COPY OF YOUR BOOK.  “Believe it or not,” Jen says, “some people don’t.”  It’s not enough simply to have written a book… human interest producers will want to read it before inviting you on their show.

Lastly, any producer on a major talk show will want to see “tape,” video of you appearing on other talk shows, reality shows, panels, etc.  They want to know you’re articulate, poised, warm on camera.

“When I’m looking for an expert,” Jen says, “I Google… and the next thing I click on is ‘video’ to see if they have any.”

If you don’t have quality tape, either online or as a DVD, don’t bother contacting major shows like The Today Show or The View.  Unless you can show them video of previous on-camera experience, they won’t be interested.

So then—if you’re new to this… how do you get tape?

How do you build a “demo reel” highlighting your on-air skills if you’ve never been on-air?

It may not be "The View," but if it gets you tape... go for it.

“Start pitching local news stations,” suggests Jen.  Many markets have localtalk shows or produce “lifestyle” segments for morning newscasts.  Getting on local shows is not only a great way begin collecting clips to build a reel, it’s often an easier pitch than national shows like Good Morning, America or The Wendy Williams Show.

Another essential resource of the self-publicist is the Internet and its social-networking tools.

“[April] should start a blog and start writing about the effects of divorce on children,” Jen says. “Start commenting on stuff in the news (Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, etc.) so your name comes up in search engines.  Put your picture up.”

Maintain a Twitter feed… and tweet often enough to build a following.  Put together your demo reel, and post it on the website.  Start a video or audio podcast where you can interview other experts… or talk to guests who could benefit from your help.  Post replies on other professionals’ blogs, so readers can see you and link back to your own site.

While many of these tips sound like basic self-promotion/networking tips, they’re also helping you to build a presence… so when talk or reality producers want to research you, there’s an impressive body of work showcasing your voice, your perspective, your writing and speaking abilities.

Plus, the stronger your online presence and network, the easier you make it for producers to find you.  You still need to be aggressively promoting yourself, of course, contacting shows and producers, but every public appearance you have—either live of online—is like a mini-billboard, a calling card to those who could book you.

Anyway, April… I hope this helps, and please let me know how it goes.  And if you’re going to be on TV somewhere where I can see you—let me know!

In the mean time, if you… or anyone else… have other questions or comments, please feel free to post them below—or simply email me at chad@chadgervich.com.

3 thoughts on “PRIMETIME: How Can I Be a Guest Expert on Talk or Reality Shows?

  1. C.Brown

    My question is I have a great idea for a reality show that is like Kardashians meets American Idol with a particular industry that is recession proof. I wanted to know what is the process to get the idea to the next level. I talked to some people and they said start taping it but the idea is so extravagant it is almost impossible for me to do it on my own and I need major support behind me to pull it off. So the question is, how do I get started? Treatments? Exec. summarys? And then is there a particular format for treatments or summarys for reality that is different from traditional programming? Please give me guidance, I want to get this out of my head and share it with the world.
    Thank you for your help.

    C.Brown

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