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Going Hollywood Part II: The Underbelly of Producing Outdoor TV Shows

Lead photo: Rosewood  Ranch Manager Charles Allan and Mike Scott looking over the meal he prepared showcasing cuts from three species.

By: Tom Claycomb

To read part I of this series, click here.

Now, for the underbelly of producing outdoor TV shows.

I remember one big event I was invited to years ago. There were six TV producers at the show. To the celebrities, here was your role: You were supposed to set there in awe clasping your hands and saying wow! You did all of that? As long as you don’t mind playing that role, you’re useful. They need these groupies to fulfill themselves. They don’t want to waste time hearing any stories from you. It’s like being in the room with a controlling two year old.

The High Road with Keith Warren crew was different from that mentality. They weren’t pompous. They didn’t act like they knew it all. If you were an authority on a topic, they pushed you in front and let you do your deal. They kept trying to tell me to take the lead at times. I can’t tell you how refreshing this was. Matti was a blast to work with. She’s gung-ho and fun to be around. Keith didn’t showboat, and as I said before, Johnny was awesome at keeping the agenda on pace. I can’t wait to see the finished product when they air the show. It will be the best Outdoor Cooking Show in the world.

But moving past the personalities is always challenging in any business. I think where most people fail in business is not remembering that it is a business. You’re doing it to make money. ROI. Let me explain.

After the big shows were done in January and February 2020, I had numerous invitations for hunting/fishing trips. A couple of Africa trips, Costa Rica, NWT, and so forth. One unique one: a guy owned a 42,000-acre ranch in Africa and wanted to open it up to air gun hunting. Someone had told him he needed to talk to mem so we met and were soon trying to work out the details.

At first blush, you think wow, that’d be fun. And yes, it all would, but you’re not lot looking at it as a business. You’re thinking of it as a hobby. Here’s why I say this. As a writer, I could line up something fun every week, and sometimes 2-3 fun trips per week. But let’s calculate the cost for one year at one trip per week. Let’s say expenses average $2,000/week times 52 weeks. So that means I’m going to have $104,000.00 in expenses. So right off the bat, I must make $104,000.00 just to cover expenses. And then whatever I deem appropriate for my wages on top of that. See the problem? If you’re doing it to break even, it is a hobby and not a business.

Right after I got into writing and doing seminars on a larger scale one day, I thought hold it, I’m getting Brand X a lot of publicity, and they should be paying me something for that service. So I started getting sponsors.

To do that, I had to hustle two months before each event getting sponsors, plane tickets, motels, rental cars, and so forth lined up. As soon as one event is done, it is off to the races to set-up for the next event.

In talking to Keith, it sounds like the TV world is the same scenario, except on a larger scale. He has a whole crew he has to fund and schedule. And with a sponsor, you’re a hero today/zero tomorrow for no apparent reason. Management with outdoor companies changes faster than the weather in West Texas. Here today, gone tomorrow.

I remember one big company I was on pro-staff with for years. Suddenly, my two contacts left. No biggee, worked better deals with the next ones. This happened six times in rapid succession. Then the new guys loved me and were going to have me set up an airgun range at a big show in Las Vegas, sponsored hunts, etc. etc. Suddenly another purge. Now I don’t even know anyone there.

So it’s not like you work hard, impress someone, and you’re in like Flynn. It’s the same in the TV world as in the writing world. According to Keith, these reasons would probably explain why most sane producers only last three years. Keith has produced a show every week for the last 35 years. Unbelievable.

And if you get a sponsor, does he own you? Why would he spend X amount of money sponsoring you and not be able to edit what you say? Some manufacturers just want you to say, “This is a great product. Buy one. No, buy two of them.” Marketing companies put out press releases. They are called a press release, not an article. On TV, it is called an ad, not an outdoor show. On the other hand, some writers/TV producers will say anything for a sponsor. But who wants to watch a show that is a virtual catalog?

If a product is used tastefully in a show, and it functions well, then yes, I want to know what works if I go on a similar trip. For example, if you’re going to Alaska to fish/hunt, wear Simms waders. On a 17-day brown bear hunt/fishing trip with Alaska Expedition Co, some days we got pounded by driving rains. And one night we got 80-90 mph winds. My Simms did not leak a drop, and we wore them from daylight to dark. I’m glad my guide recommended them.

So in a nutshell, it all boils down to one word: integrity. Both sides have to have it. I learned years ago that you want to deal with people of integrity. How many sponsors still owe me money? How many publishers still owe me for articles? I assume it is the same in the TV world.

A lot of work goes into procuring sponsors. They only have a certain number of advertising dollars. You have to convince them that you can give them the biggest bang for their buck. Many of them have been burned by unscrupulous writers/producers. So it’s not a one-time phone call and you have a sponsor. It takes many discussions to arrive at a deal.

A lot of companies have marketing crews who think it’s important to have X number of likes on FB, Instagram etc. They learned this in college. They hear a rumor and run this way, then hear another and run that way. Nothing is stable in the process like it was decades ago. Smart companies check to see how many “customer” likes follow you. I could write a whole article on this topic.

But there are also a million small details. It’d be fun getting a new gun to test for every hunt, right? Oh, but what about having to pay someone with an FFL license to receive it for you? Then when you’re done you have to pay to ship it back. Then you also have to hustle up a scope, 3-4 kinds of ammo to see what will shoot in it. Spend a day mounting a scope and going out and sighting it in.

For the last 35 years, Keith has produced one TV show a week, so obviously it is more to him than just a business. If you ask him why he does it, here would be his answer: “There’s one thing that drives me to doing a TV show. It’s my love affair with nature and my desire to make sure that after I’m dead and gone that we have done all we can to help protect the future of the outdoors for others to enjoy.”

I think the shows I like to watch and the articles I like to read are by normal people, just like you and me. Sure, they may be lucky enough to have their job, but if they lost it, they’d be just as happy shooting carp in the slough on the edge of town, wading around in the mud in a pair of cut-offs and tennis shoes. They’re outdoorsmen first.

I’ve by no means covered it all, but hopefully this article has helped open your eyes a little to what all goes into making up your favorite outdoor show. It’s not as simple as just going outdoors and strapping a GoPro on your head and hitting the on button.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

 
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