Late last year, Steve Whritner, a New York City-based producer, invited Johnathan Rodgers, TV One's chief executive, and Alfred C. Liggins III, Radio One's chief executive, to a cabaret. At the Manhattan club, Whritner quickly assembled a cast and live audience to present "Get the Hook Up," a dating-game show Whritner was pitching to TV One, the new lifestyle and entertainment cable network.
Rodgers and Higgins greenlighted the show after seeing what Whritner calls his "poor man's pilot."
There was one catch: Whritner would have to produce the show in Washington. Despite initial reservations, Whritner agreed and spent eight weeks in Washington putting the show together.
Since TV One launched in January to about 5 million households, the Silver Spring-based network has drawn heavily on local production companies and facilities. It started out with deep local connections. Atlantic Video and Team Sound & Vision, two local production houses, had worked with Discovery Communications, where Rodgers once oversaw the 14 U.S. networks.
Because their network is a start-up, TV One executives don't have the luxury of building state-of-the art facilities. That's where Atlantic Video and Team Sound & Vision come in. Both have the infrastructure that TV One needs, at a price TV One executives said is better than they would get in Los Angeles or New York.
Team Sound & Video has made all of TV One's promotional material since the network's inception. TV One has relied on Atlantic Video for studio space and production management services. Team Sound & Video and Atlantic Video also have creative divisions, which are pitching original show ideas for TV One.
The Washington area has an advantage over New York and Los Angeles in human capital as well, said Lee Gaither, executive vice president for programming.
"Reality-based television like 'Trading Spaces' has been driving cable television for the past 10 years. News people are who are producing these shows. This is the best pool of those people that you're going to find in the U.S.," Gaither said.
TV One is looking to increase the talent pool as well.
"I will force [out-of-town collaborators] to have local people on their team," Gaither said. "So when a person gets on the plane back to Los Angeles, local people here will know what to do."
"Part of the mission of the network is to take people who have toiled away, who worked on the staffs of other people's shows and give them a chance," Gaither said. "Three years from now, we want there to be 50 companies around that didn't exist before."
Last year, TV One tapped the relatively-inexperienced Fort Washington-based production house Krosslink Management to produce a music special called "StarJamz."
Krosslink is a family business, consisting of Wilma Kilgo; her husband Keith Kilgo, who is a musician; and Wilma Kilgo's sister, Lydia Cole, a former BET executive. Krosslink came up with the idea for and put together "StarJamz," an hour-long show featuring different generations of musical artists performing together. The pilot, which aired April 29, starred Peabo Bryson and Ruben Studdard. Krosslink recruited a local director and shot the show at Atlantic Video, in downtown Washington.
With Krosslink, TV One was willing to go the extra mile to work with local talent. Network executives worked closely with Krosslink for more than a year to hone the concept before greenlighting it. "We had to jump through a lot of hoops" to prove the idea for the show could be executed, said Wilma Kilgo. "The night we premiered, our supervising producer said we made it because of our tenaciousness. When people told us 'no,' we didn't listen."
Krosslink is in the middle of pitching a reality series to TV One, Kilgo said.
TV One is introducing Washington as a nonfiction filmmaking hub to television industry pros from out of town.
Whritner said that initially, he was wary of leaving his network of established contacts in New York. "To be honest with you . . . we had some reservations about working in Washington," he said in a phone interview.
Logistically, however, working in Washington made sense. The stars of the show, Radio One personalities Russ Parr and Alfredas had to be in Lanham to do their national syndicated show, the Russ Parr Morning Show.
Whritner came down with a bare-bones crew and hired the rest of the crew in Washington.
Washington, he said, turned out to be New York's equal in television production resources in almost every way except for the supply of contestants and audience members.
"We discovered that in Washington, a lot of folks work in government jobs and have difficulty leaving jobs during the weekdays," said Whritner.
Since the show aired May 31, Whritner said, that problem has vanished. He said he has received upward of 5,000 requests for tickets and several hundred requests to be a contestant.
"It made perfect sense to be in D.C.," he said in hindsight. "It would have been tougher in New York."