GRB Entertainment’s Gary R. Benz, president and CEO, and Liz Levenson, the director of international sales and acquisitions, speak with TV Real about factual programming trends and the company’s future plans.
Since 1986, Los Angeles-based GRB Entertainment, founded by President and CEO Gary R. Benz, has been producing and distributing a catalogue that includes unscripted and documentary programming. Lately, demand for this brand of factual content, particularly true crime, has reached a new high. “Documentaries are back in a very powerful way,” says Liz Levenson, GRB’s director of international sales and acquisitions.
“We’re always looking for, pitching and producing unscripted shows,” adds Benz. “We’ve always taken on documentaries, but they’ve recently hit a new height in terms of interest. Now, the younger audience is after something very authentic that speaks to them,” and documentaries can fill that need.
In the documentary space, true-crime has rushed to the forefront and is commanding a great deal of attention. “The true-crime space has always been strong, but we’re seeing a resurgence like never before,” says Levenson. “Between Making a Murderer on Netflix and The Jinx [on HBO], everybody’s talking about true-crime documentaries.”
Benz points out that “Crime programming has been a mainstay of scripted television forever, with Dick Wolf having a big piece of that market cornered. But honestly, you can’t make up stories that are better than reality. Now the audience is able to plug into real stories that are happening in real time, and it’s very captivating.”
GRB is capitalizing on viewers’ thirst for this type of programming with true-crime documentaries such as Nelson Serrano: I’m Innocent, which follows the story of an Ecuadorian citizen who was accused of murder in Florida in 1997. Levenson explains that Serrano “was sentenced to death for the crime, and is on death row currently awaiting execution, though he has maintained his innocence from the very beginning.”
In a similar vein, GRB’s portfolio also features the series On The Case with Paula Zahn. This long-running program “has the same kind of elements as Nelson Serrano: I’m Innocent,” Levenson says.
True-crime documentaries resonate with viewers because they deal with “a very relatable subject and the stakes are always high,” Levenson notes. “There’s something about the procedural element [with a title] like Nelson Serrano: I’m Innocent, where all of a sudden as a viewer, you’re in this position as judge and jury. All of the facts are presented to you, and everybody thinks that they’re the one that’ll solve the crime, so there is this immersive experience, and that [makes this type of programming] very interesting.”
Documentaries occupy such a commanding presence in the factual space that the company is looking to dedicate a new division to this genre. Benz explains, “One of the things we’re interested in embarking on now is setting up a part of GRB that is a documentary label.” Therefore, Levenson notes, “We are looking to collaborate on, produce and acquire documentaries.”
From an acquisition standpoint, Levenson explains, “When we’re looking for programming, we’re looking for something that’s going to rise above and have a very distinct tone, style and target audience. There is so much competition in the marketplace and there are so many shows that it’s not enough for a program to be OK, it has to be great to shine through.”
She adds that the company is also interested in “getting involved in projects earlier so we can help potentially shape them for the international market and make them as sellable as possible.”
Moving forward, GRB is looking to expand its library of digital content. “What is so exciting [about digital] is that programming doesn’t have to be any particular length,” Benz notes. “It can be five minutes, ten minutes, 20 minutes, short-form, long-form—you’re no longer confined to having to do shows with commercial breaks, so that unleashes new creativity and voices.”
“From a sales perspective, platforms are changing more rapidly than ever before,” Levenson says. “We’re looking forward to seeing where things go and developing new ways of structuring deals and business models in order to take advantage of digital platforms when they’re available.”